Monday, August 10, 2009

Fighting for the Advocate

China likes to say that it has rule of law.

But the rule is according to the Chinese government.

Courts are hardly independent of the state -- with many verdicts politically driven rather than through interpretations of the law or evidence presented.

And that is why there are a few lawyers who are dedicated to upholding the rule of law by challenging it. They take on cases like the families whose children died or were severely sickened by the melamine milk scandal, or the families who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake last May. They even try to represent those held in "black jails", people who come from all over the country to Beijing who try to petition the central government to hear their grievances, but are prevented from going any further by being held illegally in hotels in the outskirts of the city.

But the Chinese government feels these lawyers are challenging its mandate to rule the country, since it doesn't want to seem like it's in the wrong by the laws it created.

So it has retaliated by harassing these lawyers' defense witnesses or courts refuse to hear cases. And most recently it has refused to renew licenses for some lawyers, preventing them from practicing law.

And now it recently shut down a legal aid centre called the Open Constitution Initiative called Gongmeng supposedly on tax evasion charges. The centre distributes a newsletter to its constituents and the government claimed that Gongmeng didn't have a proper publishing license to print these newsletters. However, technically the centre is not putting out mass publications nor is it for profit, even though the government claims the non-profit group is not properly registered. Despite not playing by the rules, the government still closed down the legal clinic and has detained Xu Zhiyong, one of its best-known lawyers.

The 36-year-old is known for his determination to fight for the rights of the common man, having represented migrant workers, deathrow inmates, and the parents involved in the milk scandal.

Many believe the charge of tax evasion is veiling his true offense -- angering the Chinese government by challenging it through the rule of law.

However, many are shocked by his detainment as Xu is not a radical lawyer who doesn't take on politically sensitive cases.

In the New York Times story about Xu, he is from a Christian family in Henan Province and likes to note his birth in a county called Mingquan which means "civil rights".

And apparently this had a profound influence on his desire to help society.

"I strive to be a worthy Chinese citizen, a member of the group of people who promote the progress of the nation," he said. "I want to make people believe in ideals and justice and help them see the hope of change."

What is it about his goals that the Chinese government doesn't like?

Or is he striving to do what the government failed to do? Stand up for the common man and help them fight for the justice they deserve?

1 comment:

gung said...

china needs time to slowly morph from a feudal restrictive society into a true democracy. meantime the people have to suffer from inequality , lack of freedom and fraternity. hope the chinese have a little more patience. hope the government have the courage to accept their responsibility and have trust in the people. together they build a harmonious society.