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HRIC in Action: September–November 2009

December 12, 2009

Raising International Awareness and Building Support for Rights Defenders in China

Through international advocacy and media work, Human Rights in China raised the cases of activists, lawyers, scholars, and petitioners to generate attention and support for these individuals and their families. HRIC also raised human rights issues around key international events, including the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, U.S. President Obama’s visit to China, and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our media work generated broad coverage in English, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, Uyghur, and Vietnamese outlets.

HRIC’s advocacy on behalf of Xie Changfa generated 15 pickups from 14 outlets, including:

“In a statement, HRIC said: ‘This is yet another case of the Chinese authorities trampling on rights protected under the Chinese constitution. HRIC urges relevant authorities to carefully review this case and take corrective action.’

“The group said the court found Xie guilty of ‘illegally setting up a party in the long term,’ ‘soliciting and inciting others to attack, denigrate, and overturn state power and the socialist system,’ ‘incitement,’ and the ‘subversion of state power,’ the latter of which carries a heavier sentence.”

Tania Branigan, “Chinese Dissident Jailed for 13 Years,” The Guardian (UK), September 2,2009.

“According to the nonprofit organization Human Rights in China, Mr. Xie’s lawyer argued that China’s constitution protects the right to organize a political party or assembly. Nonetheless, he was convicted of ‘illegally setting up a party in the long-term’ and ‘soliciting and inciting others to attack, denigrate, and overturn state power and the socialist system.’”

Same Old China,” The Washington Post ,September 6, 2009.

As part of HRIC’s ongoing UN advocacy, HRIC submitted a case appeal in October to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), an independent international body of human rights experts. HRIC builds on WGAD decisions to push for release of detained individuals and greater attention to individual cases by governments that engage in bilateral dialogues with China, including the U.S. government and European Union and its member states.

In addition, HRIC submitted a list of 33 imprisoned human rights defenders to the EU, urging it to raise these cases with the Chinese government during the EU-China Human Rights Seminar and Dialogue, which took place November 19–20. HRIC also submitted urgent humanitarian cases to the U.S. government in advance of President Obama’s visit to China in November.

With 16 press releases, statements, and case updates during October and November, HRIC provided information to the international media on several individuals, including:

Xie Changfa (谢长发)

On September 1, 2009, Xie Changfa was convicted of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment and five years’deprivation of political rights by the Changsha Municipal Intermediate Court. The sentence was among the most severe received by a political dissident in recent years. Xie, who was detained in June 2008 and formally arrested one month later, was accused of illegally establishing the China Democracy Party and its local branch, as well as compiling articles with intent to disseminate in order to overturn the power of the state. By issuing a press release on Xie, HRIC amplified the voices of his lawyers and brought international attention to his case.

HRIC’s advocacy on behalf of Guo Quan generated 61 press pickups by 20 outlets, including:

“This sentence is indefensible from a legal perspective, because using peaceful and rational means to petition cannot be considered subversion of state power,” Guo’s lawyer was quoted assaying in a statement by Human Rights in China.

“Guo Quan’s actions were in com-pete compliance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. ‘Subversion of state power’ can only be achieved by armed insurrection.”

China Jails Ex-Professor 10 Years for Subversion,” Reuters, October 17, 2009.

“A former university professor who frequently criticised the Chinese government and called for multi-party elections has been sentenced to ten years in prison, a rights group said on Saturday.

“Guo Quan, founder of the independent New Democracy Party of China, was jailed Friday for ‘subversion of state power,’ Human Rights in China said in a statement.”

Jacqueline Wong, “China Jails Staunch Critic,” Agence France-Presse, October 17, 2009.

Guo Quan (郭泉)

On October 16, 2009, Guo Quan, a former Nanjing Normal University associate professor, was sentenced to ten years in prison and three years of deprivation of political rights for “subversion of state power” by the Suqian Inter-mediate People’s Court in Jiangsu Province. Guo was detained on November 13, 2008, and tried on August 7, 2009. However, a verdict was not issued until over four months later, exceeding by two months the time required to conclude a case as stipulated under the Criminal Procedure Law. Guo was formerly member of the China Democratic League (CDL), one of the eight state-approved “democratic”parties, and is the founder of the New Democracy Party of China (NDP). In late 2007, after founding the NDP, he was expelled from the CDL and fired from his university. HRIC generated a large amount of media pickup for Guo’s case and increased international attention to, and understanding of, the egregious misuse of China’s state secrets laws.

(Full texts of press releases, statements, and case updates are available on HRIC’s website.)

Shaping and Highlighting Issues

HRIC appeared in broadcast interviews and delivered analysis in press releases on key issues, such as the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (and the lighting of the Empire State Building to commemorate the event in the U.S.), the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and President Obama’s trip to China. Additionally, on October 2, on Voice of America’s television program “Pro and Con,” HRIC senior policy advisor Gao Wenqian debated Li Cheng of the Brookings Institution on whether the “China Model” has been a success or failure.

60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China

The Communist Party of China (CPC) expended enormous amounts of money and resources and mobilized hundreds of thousands of people for spectacular performances to commemorate the 60th anniversary. In an attempt to extend its soft power and celebrate the anniversary abroad, the CPC succeeded in obtaining permission to light up the Empire State Building in red and yellow. HRIC did broadcast interviews, including a CNN story titled “Celebrating Communism” on September 29, and appeared in print articles in order to ensure that human rights issues were not left out of the official media portrayal of the anniversary and of the history of the last 60 years.

On the topic of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, HRIC appeared in two broadcast programs and HRIC’s press work was cited 13 times in nine media outlets:

“The Great Famine (1959–1961), the Anti-Rightist Move-met (1957-60), and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) were all ‘dark periods marked by disastrous policies which led to the death and persecution of tens of millions of people,’ explained Sharon Hom, executive director of the NGO Human Rights in China in Hong Kong.”

—“Mucho Poder y Pocos Derechos” (Too Much Power and Too Few Rights), Agencia EFE,October 1, 2009.

“Expatriate representatives of ethnic minorities, including Tibetan and Uyghurs, bemoaned the suppression of their communities. ‘The spectacle cannot conceal deep insecurity,’ said Human Rights in China (HRIC).”

—“China feiert sich mit mächtiger Waffenschau” [China Celebrates with a Powerful Display of Weapons], Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 1, 2009.

“It is contributing to the legitimacy of the leadership that is in power now, and by contributing to the legitimacy it is undermining the importance of the human rights issues.”

Kitty Pilgrim, “Celebrating Communism,” Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN, September 30, 2009.

“It is why some New Yorkers protested this honor in lights. They included two groups, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, that have offices in the Empire State Building…. ‘This anniversary has been accompanied by massive human rights abuses,’ with tightened government controls choking off possible dissent, said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.”

Clyde Haberman, “Bright Lights That Mask the Darkness,” The New York Times, October 1, 2009.

U.S. President Obama in China

During President Obama’s first trip to China, HRIC provided analysis of his human rights strategy to the media and translated and transmitted public letters from rights defenders to the President. HRIC executive director Sharon Hom appeared in a debate and interview on television and radio respectively, and HRIC analysis was quoted in print articles.

HRIC comments on U.S. President Obama in China

“China has signed on and ratified almost every one of these major international treaties on human rights, meaning that it has agreed that it will abide by these international norms. Now recently, there is a bit of assertion—reassertion—of a kind of cultural relativism rearing its head again, but that’s really for a rhetorical/strategic purpose.”

—Sharon Hom, in F24 Debate, Episode “Obama’s Chinese Wisdom,” first broadcast November 16, 2009, by France 24.

“There is still the potential going forward for President Obama and the US government to take a much more rigorous position and we hope [he will] in the context of international human rights law….

—Sharon Hom, in Letters to Washington, KPFA Morning Show, Pacifica Radio, November 18, 2009.

20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

During the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, questions were raised as to the implications of that event in China. HRIC provided analysis in interviews for broadcast and print in order to further understanding of the insecurity of the Chinese government about the fall and its anniversary.

HRIC comments on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:

“‘In history, there’s no point in dwelling on what might have been,’ says Gao Wenqian, senior policy advisor at the NGO Human Rights in China…. ‘Even so, I feel that Chinese political history would have been vastly different if the Tiananmen Square uprising had happened after the fall of the Berlin Wall.’

“To this day, he adds, ‘there is still a ‘Berlin Wall’ that’s waiting to fall in China. And Chinese pro-democracy activists are calling on the international community to help Chinese people push down that wall.’”

Venkatesan Vembu, “Rubble Rousing,” Daily News & Analysis, November 9, 2009.

“Human rights groups have said that the choice is not to engage or not to engage. Those are rather simplistic for complex world, I think the real issue is how to engage. So how to engage is it needs to be transparent, it needs to be accountable. Each of the EU presidencies needs to deal with China in a way that is accountable to the civil society, to the EU citizens, to Chinese citizens, and that means according to international obligations. Many of the people that are now in detention, or harassed, or silenced in China, are in fact having their rights protected under Chinese law as well as under human rights law violated. So when we say engagement, we say yes, engage, but engage in a concrete, specific, constructive way, and that is not the same thing as saying anything with China goes. That is engagement with Chinese characteristics, which is that is no criticism permitted, no dissident voices, no diverse voices, that kind of engagement is not constructive and will simply undermine the rights defenders and lawyers and journalists, and writers, and citizens.”

—Sharon Hom, in discussion on the fall of the Berlin Wall on “World Have Your Say,” British Broadcasting Corporation, November 9, 2009.

Expanding HRIC's Outreach to Diverse Audiences

Launch of the HRIC YouTube Channel

HRIC launched the HRIC YouTube channel on October 1. The channel aims to provide a YouTube human rights clearing house through thematic playlists and HRIC-produced videos on protests, demonstrations, and other events in China and around the world. Some examples of content that can be found on the HRIC YouTube channel include:

  • The Human Rights Book Fair co-sponsored by HRIC on December 3 in New York
  • Interviews with human rights defenders
  • Tibetan protests in front of the Empire State Building on October 1
  • Protests and demonstrations throughout China
  • Commentary on globalization and China’s environment

Readers with YouTube accounts can subscribe to HRIC’s YouTube channel to receive notifications when new videos are added.

Participation in Outreach Events

Annual Meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association (New York City)

On October 23, executive director Sharon Hom participated on a panel, “China, International Law and Transnational Governance” at Fordham Law School, focusing in particular on China’s past compliance with international law in light of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and exploring the prospects of China’s future role in transnational governance.

Tear Down This Wall Expedition (New York City)

Executive director Sharon Hom spoke on September 8 at the opening of “Tear Down This Wall Expedition” at the National Arts Club. The art exhibition tour commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstration and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ms. Hom discussed the work of artist Zhang Hongtu, whose painting “Bird’s Nest in the Style of Cubism” was seized by Chinese customs authorities in advance of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Addressing ICT and Human Rights through the Global Network Initiative

As part of its work on corporate social responsibility, HRIC continues to participate in the development of the Global Network Initiative (GNI). GNI celebrated its one-year anniversary on October 28, coinciding with GNI outreach events for international companies and NGOs, with specific emphasis on Asia. More information—including core documents detailing GNI’s objectives and key commitments–can be found at the GNI website.

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