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Legal Expert Cao Siyuan May Face Arrest for Subversion

March 18, 2004

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Beijing-based legal expert Cao Siyuan may be arrested for subversion upon his return to China after a visit to the United States.

According to sources in China, Cao Siyuan, who gained fame after proposing and drafting China’s first bankruptcy law, has been subjected to constant harassment since he hosted a controversial conference in Qingdao last June. The operations of his Beijing Siyuan Social Sciences Institute have been disrupted to the point of effectively putting Cao out of business. Specific incidents include:

– All of Cao’s personal and business telephones have been tapped, with officials monitoring all communication with the outside world.
– Cao has been subjected to 24-hour surveillance in the form of six police vehicles, two police motorcycles and 20 plainclothes police officers following his every movement.
– Police have put pressure on Cao’s corporate clients to cancel their contracts with his institute, effectively eliminating Cao’s business over the past half year.

The official harassment began after controversial comments voiced at the Qingdao conference, which involved more than 40 top legal scholars, economic scholars and entrepreneurs and focused on the need to include provisions for the protection of private property rights in China’s constitution. Comments by former Party propaganda chief Zhu Houze regarding the need to reform China’s strong-man politics raised particular official ire, and retribution focused on Cao as organizer of the conference.

After being seriously harassed for more than half a year, Cao Siyuan managed to evade surveillance long enough to process a passport and other necessary paperwork for a recent visit to the United States. His departure from China so enraged police that surveillance of his home and office have been upscaled, and the authorities are reportedly preparing to charge Cao with incitement to subvert state power upon his return. Cao Siyuan departed the U.S. for China today, March 18.

Apart from his pioneering work in bankruptcy law, Cao Siyuan has since the late 1980s been involved in improving China’s laws relating to labor management and has recommended better public access to National People’s Congress sessions. Prior to the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in June 1989, Cao joined members of the NPC Standing Committee in attempting to hold an emergency session of the Standing Committee to peacefully resolve the standoff at Tiananmen Square. As a result, Cao was secretly detained for nearly a year in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison.

“We are deeply concerned about the long-standing official harassment of Cao Siyuan, and even more so at reports that he may be arrested upon his return to China,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “Cao Siyuan has demonstrated for more than a decade his dedication to rule of law and to peaceful and gradual political reform. The Chinese government should respect and value the suggestions of a scholar of Cao’s caliber rather than treating him like an enemy of the State. If Cao Siyuan is actually arrested upon his return, it will make a farce of the recent incorporation of a reference to human rights in China’s constitution.”