November 29, 2015
(Protesters holding pictures of detained Chinese human-rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang march to the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on May 14, 2014, asking for his release)
Beijing is currently pushing a rule-of-law campaign, but the reality is drastically different
In late November, Ren Jianyu, once a budding civil servant in China’s southwest, received his results for China’s National Judicial Examination: a sterling score well above what he needed to pass China’s bar. The triumph was bittersweet: for 15 months, Ren, like tens of thousands of others, had been forced to undergo “re-education through labor,” as time spent in China’s gulags is known.
Ren’s offense was to have reposted on his microblog comments critical of China’s government and its leaders. He also purchased online a T-shirt emblazoned with the motto: “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” For these transgressions, the now 28-year-old was never given the courtesy of a proper trial. He spent his days assembling cardboard for boxes and lived 11 people to a room in a camp filled with more than 1,000 inmates. But after a local justice board deemed his case improperly handled, Ren was released early in 2012 and later compensated less than $15,000 for his suffering. “After experiencing so many things all these years,” he says, “I am not afraid anymore.”
The campaign against China’s lawyers is part of an overall crackdown on civil rights defenders that has gained momentum in recent months. Journalists, academics and civil-society activists have all been targeted in what some call the most chilling crusade against freethinking in decades. Some dissenters have disappeared into black jails or residential surveillance. Others have been sentenced to years of jail for such nebulous crimes as “picking quarrels and inviting trouble” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.”