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Dissidents Thwarted in Opening Human Rights Consultancy

April 21, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned from sources in China that Beijing police forced the closure of a citizens’ rights center established by political activists Liu Jingsheng and Li Weiping.

Sources told HRIC that Beijing police officers acting on “instructions from higher levels” ordered the cancellation of a news conference scheduled for 3:00 p.m., on April 18, at the Friendship Hotel to announce the establishment of the Beijing Chinese Citizens’ Rights Information Center. Police also reportedly gave Liu and Li a “friendly warning” to close down the organization as soon as possible, and made clear that this suggestion came under instruction from the “upper levels” of the government. Police reportedly advised Liu and the others that if they insisted on opening the center, they would not be allowed to accept financial support from foundations, and would face considerable personal financial loss. According to HRIC’s sources, Liu and the other founders had already received enthusiastic pledges of support from a European foundation and a major American foundation, and had also been engaged in talks with human rights personnel at a foreign embassy.

Sources told HRIC that the center had already been approved for registration by the Beijing municipal government. On March 21, Liu Jingsheng, Li Weiping and others went to the Bureau of Commerce in Beijing’s Haidian District to process the necessary applications to establish a professional office. On March 23, Li Weiping followed the relevant regulations to obtain a preliminary authorization through the Internet to establish the office under the name of the Beijing Chinese Citizens’ Rights Information Center. Liu and Li and the others then busied themselves with the preparatory work for the center, and confirmed the office’s address on March 30. On March 31, they were notified to complete the necessary paperwork, and on April 1, they obtained an administrative permit from the Beijing Bureau of Commerce.

According to HRIC’s sources, Liu Jingsheng and Li Weiping decided to establish the center in recognition of the serious human rights problems that prevail in Chinese society, and with a view to using commercial methods to improve and develop effective efforts to protect human rights. The center planned to operate under the guiding principles that prevention is better than cure, and that policies take precedence over enforcement. The specific work to be carried out by the center included: assisting citizens in protecting their legal rights and improving awareness of human rights; offering training to public servants on how to better recognize, respect, serve and protect the human rights of the general public; and influencing public policy with respect to human rights.

Sources say Liu Jingsheng and Li Weiping’s new center enjoyed widespread welcome and support. Their calls for volunteers from Peking University and Tsinghua University received an extremely enthusiastic response, and the center had already arranged to take on five volunteers. On April 4 and 5, staff began preparing the new office space, and on April 8, Liu and Li picked up their commercial permit. All was prepared for the formal opening following the news conference on April 18.

At the same time, sources say, the Beijing Public Security Bureau was also taking a growing interest in the new center. At first police reportedly agreed to respect the organization’s legal standing and not interfere, but eventually officials observed that Liu Jingsheng, who had just been released from prison on November 27, was still subject to the deprivation of political rights imposed by his original sentence, and for that reason could not accept interviews or issue statements. Finally the police made it clear that they wanted the center to abandon its plans for a news conference. On April 14, the Friendship Hotel rescinded its agreement to rent the new center a room for the news conference, the Beijing Municipal Foreign Affairs Office refused to answer any more inquiries regarding the center, and the Beijing Public Security Bureau demanded that the news conference be canceled and that plans for the center be aborted.

Liu Jingsheng is one of China’s most well-known political dissidents. He participated in the 1978 Democracy Wall Movement, publishing the magazine Tansuo (Research) with Wei Jingsheng. When Wei Jingsheng was imprisoned, Liu was also detained for half a year. Following the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Liu Jingsheng joined with Hu Shigen, Kang Yuchun and others to establish the China Freedom and Democracy Party (CFDP) and the Free Labor Union of China (FLUC). Because of his involvement in these organizations, Liu was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Li Weiping, a graduate of Zhongnan University, was a key participant in the 1989 democracy movement. He was sentenced to three years in prison for his participation in a political party. Since his release, he has devoted himself to promoting human rights and civil society in China, and was the primary force behind the Beijing Chinese Citizens’ Rights Information Center.

The forced closure of the center has caused severe financial and personal loss to Liu Jingsheng and Li Weiping, and has obliged them to reconsider the feasibility of offering such a service.

“Given that the Chinese government incorporated the protection of human rights into the Constitution last year, it should welcome the efforts of public-spirited people such as Liu Jingsheng and Li Weiping to promote and protect human rights in the wider community,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “Liu and Li have conscientiously fulfilled all of the official requirements to operate their organization according to law. The Chinese authorities should cease their harassment and interference and allow Liu and Li to carry out their important work.”