(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, July 20, 2012) – The United States and China will hold the 17th round of their bilateral human rights dialogue in Washington D.C. on July 23 and 24. According to a State Department media note circulated just days before the dialogue, issues such as rule of law, labor rights, and freedom of religion and expression will be raised during the dialogue, and “[s]trong promotion of human rights remains a key tenet of U.S. foreign policy, including toward China.”
With so many rounds of the human rights dialogue having preceded the one that will begin on Monday, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) asks what, if anything, has been achieved by these talks? Are there any tangible results or positive outcomes that the US government can point to? Or is the only “result” merely the convening of the dialogue? CHRD strongly believes that a systematic and public assessment of the usefulness of these dialogues is long overdue.
Indeed, some Chinese human rights advocates have told CHRD that they do not expect the human rights dialogue to bring about tangible benefits since, in their opinion, the Chinese government has no interest in improving human rights and faces little pressure to do more than just “enter into dialogue.” Still, the talks could be a useful endeavor if they were more open to members of China’s civil society. For example, some activists have suggested that the dialogue take into account views and ideas of Chinese human rights activists, and that officials from both countries should hold press conferences and respond to questions at the end of the dialogue.
After last year’s talks, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner held a press conference at the US Embassy in Beijing and mentioned specific issues and concerns that were raised, including the names of some individual cases. Posner also said “we believe strongly that change occurs from within a society, so discussions about human rights are not about us, but about how Chinese citizens determine their own political future. Societies need to give their own people an opportunity to voice and pursue their aspirations.”
Taking this same view, CHRD believes that the US government needs to think more creatively about how it can involve and empower Chinese civil society actors in the context of the human rights dialogue, and beyond. At a minimum, Assistant Secretary Posner should speak with the press after the talks, and, like last year, the transcript should be promptly translated into Chinese and circulated online. Specifics from the dialogue, including the names of individual cases raised, should be tweeted in both English and Chinese and posted on weibo in Chinese.
“The onus is on American officials to not only voice strong concerns over the Chinese government’s abysmal human rights record, but push for results on specific cases of detained individuals and in other crucial areas,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. “It’s high time that the dialogue, after being of questionable value for many years, develops into an activity that seriously strives to achieve real human rights progress for the Chinese people.”
Despite CHRD’s concerns about the usefulness of this annual exercise in its current form, we nevertheless believe that raising individual cases during the human rights dialogue remains an important advocacy tool. The recent case of Chen Guangcheng, for whom many had been advocating for years before his successful escape and exit from China earlier this year, is an important example. We urge US government officials to raise and seek the release of the following prisoners of conscience during the dialogue. All of these individuals have been deprived of their liberty as punishment for their peaceful human rights advocacy and the exercise of their own protected rights.
- Ni Yulan (倪玉兰), female, 52, a Beijing-based housing rights activist and legal advocate, was convicted of “creating a disturbance” and “fraud” on April 10, 2012, and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. Beginning in 2002, Ni was often subjected to police torture and other cruel and degrading treatment that ultimately led to her being disabled—she cannot walk on her own—as well as chronic medical problems.
- Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), 48, a former Beijing-based lawyer known for defending members of the banned sect Falun Gong and unofficial Christian house churches, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power” on December 12, 2006. With his punishment suspended for three years, Gao subsequently endured periods of extended disappearance and police torture. On December 16, 2011, a Beijing court sent Gao to prison for allegedly violating terms of his probation.
- Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), 56, a Beijing-based writer, intellectual, and human rights activist, was convicted on December 25, 2009, of “inciting subversion of state power,” and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment. Liu was detained on December 8, 2008, a day before the issuance of “Charter 08,” of which he was co-author and helped organize a petition-signing campaign.
- Chen Wei (陈卫), 43, a former Tiananmen Square student activist from Sichuan Province, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on December 23, 2011. Chen was taken into custody during the “Jasmine Revolution” crackdown in February 2011 after posting articles online about democracy and human rights. In the spring of 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding Chen’s ongoing detention “arbitrary” and called on the Chinese government to release him.
- Chen Xi (陈西, aka Chen Youcai), 58, a democracy rights activist from Guizhou Province, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to 10 years in prison on December 26, 2011. Chen was initially detained in November 2011 for essays he wrote that were posted on overseas websites, and after he tried to obtain information about a local People’s Congress election.
- Guo Quan (郭泉), 44, a writer and former associate professor at Nanjing Normal University, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for “subversion of state power” on October 16, 2009. Guo had formed the China “New People’s” Party in December 2007 and penned a series of online articles entitled “The Voice of Democracy” and other works critical of the one-party system and policies of the local government.
- Li Tie (李铁), 47, a Wuhan-based democracy rights activist and writer of many articles promoting democracy, constitutional government, and direct local elections, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for “subversion of state power” on January 18, 2012. Li was reportedly convicted based on articles he wrote criticizing the government, his membership in the China Social Democracy Party, and “reactionary” discussions and comments.
- Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌), 43, a 1989 participant in the pro-democracy activist and a founding member of the Sichuan Province branch of the China Democracy Party, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to 10 years in prison on March 25, 2011. His current incarceration comes in retaliation for rights-related activities, including his support for “Charter 08” and publishing of articles on human rights and democracy.
- Qi Chonghuai (齐崇淮), 47, formerly a journalist from Shandong Province known for articles exposing local corruption, social injustice, and human rights violations, is serving eight years in prison for “extortion and blackmail” and “embezzlement.” Before he was sentenced on June 9, 2011, Qi was just days from serving out a four-year sentence for “extortion and blackmail.” During his period of incarceration, Qi has reportedly been tortured, beaten, and forced to perform hard labor.
- Tan Zuoren (谭作人), 58, an activist, environmentalist, and former magazine editor, is serving a five-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” following his conviction on February 9, 2010. After the Sichuan earthquake in May of 2008, Tan published commentaries critical of the government, encouraged investigation about casualties and collapsed school buildings, and assisted parents of children who died to seek legal justice.
- Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫), 59, a Zhejiang veteran of the Democracy Wall movement from the 1970s, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to seven years in prison on February 10, 2012. Zhu was charged in part for writing a poem, “It’s Time!,” which was circulated online during calls for “Jasmine Rallies” in early 2011, and for other writings, his calls for monetary donations for prisoners of conscience, and interviews that he had given.
- Feng Zhenghu (冯正虎), 57, a Shanghai activist, has been under increasingly oppressive house arrest since February 27, 2012, with authorities neither producing formal notice about his confinement nor stating a reason for keeping Feng a virtual prisoner inside his home. Feng’s phone has been tapped, cell phone confiscated, and his internet connection cut off, and he can only leave his residence accompanied by officers from the Shanghai Public Security Bureau.