January 30, 2017
Developments in the crackdown on rights lawyers that began with the “Black Friday” or “709” sweep in July 2015 have continued into the New Year. Recent news on the topic has been dominated by reports that several of those detained have suffered physical and emotional torture. Xie Yang described his ordeal in a lengthy interview with his own legal representatives; Li Chunfu was released in a deeply traumatized state, unable to speak coherently; and his brother Li Heping and fellow rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang are said to have been subjected to abuses including intense electric shocks. A Washington Post editorial highlighted the first two cases on Friday, arguing that “in China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham”:
A nation under the rule of law must have a commitment that no one is exempt from justice. China has courts, judges and lawyers, but the Communist Party remains above the law. Two recent cases have dramatically illustrated how brutal and arbitrary punishment from the Chinese party-state can be, including its use of torture to silence dissent and break dissenters.
Imprisonment, forced confessions and deprivation are hardly new in China, but the fresh examples are raw and disturbing. The victims were lawyers committed to peaceful advocacy of human rights and dignity.
[…] The United States has regularly spoken out about the universal values of human rights and rule of law. President Trump has shown no interest in either and has endorsed the use of torture in interrogations. That can only embolden China’s leaders the next time they decide to apply thumbscrews to the champions of democracy and rule of law. [Source]
While some fear that Trump’s election “represents the biggest possible blow to everything that has been achieved in the realm of international human rights since the late 1940s,” others hope that his apparent willingness to confront China on an issue as sensitive as Taiwan’s status offers hope for a stronger line on rights issues. Prominent Chinese activists including Hu Jia, Chen Guangcheng, and Teng Biao established the China Human Rights Accountability Center earlier this month. The group aims to promote the use of recent U.S. legislation to sanction foreign officials involved in such abuses.