Human Rights: Is China likely to build a better world?

July 10, 2017 15:44
Activists ask China to allow Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia to go overseas for medical treatment. Photo: HKEJ

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has been busy traveling the world to deliver the message that China is a responsible power, ready for world leadership. The official Xinhua news agency said of his visit to Hamburg for the G20 gathering: “Chinese President Xi Jinping has demonstrated China’s readiness to join the rest of the world in building a better world for everyone.”

Within China, however, not everyone would agree that a better world was being built for them. Sunday [July 9] marked the second anniversary of the “709 crackdown” against human rights defenders, which began on July 9, 2015. According to China Change, an organization that works with Chinese democracy advocates, more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists have been detained, disappeared, temporarily rounded up and interrogated.

To mark the second anniversary, the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, founded in 2013, issued a statement in which it recalled the first arrests, that of Beijing-based lawyer Wang Yu and her husband, Bao Longjun, and their son, Bao Zhuoxuan.

“This was a prelude to the mass arrests of the July 9 sweep,” the group said. “After July 9, over 360 lawyers and citizens around the country were summoned and subjective to coercive, high-pressure interrogations. The family members of lawyers and rights activities were also implicated and subjected to constant threats and intimidation.”

These events have not gone unnoticed overseas. The New York City Bar Association also issued a statement marking the “709 Crackdown” on Sunday.

“In what amounts to nothing less than a ‘war on law’ that is unprecedented in its scale and severity,” the New York body said, “Chinese human rights lawyers and activists have been summoned for questioning, kidnapped by secret police, detained incommunicado in ‘black jails’ and other prisons, humiliated and subjected to marathon interrogation sessions and other forms of sadistic psychological and physical torture, including sleep deprivation, forced medication (often with grave consequences for mental and physical health), brutal beatings, electric shocks, prolonged subversion in water, death threats, and months of solitary confinement.”

It ascribed responsibility for this “infamous 709 Crackdown” directly to President Xi Jinping.

Also very much in the international news these days, though not in China where the media is controlled, is the treatment China has meted out to its best known dissident, Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Given an 11-year sentence on Christmas Day, 2009 for “subversion of state power”, Liu is now dying of liver cancer. Still, the Chinese government won’t allow him and his wife to go abroad for medical treatment.

It is hard to believe that Chinese prison authorities, who knew Liu suffered from hepatitis B, was unaware of Liu’s liver cancer until it had metastasized. The Shenyang judicial bureau released a statement on June 28 that doctors found suspicious symptoms during a routine physical checkup on May 31. A medical team was convened and a week later diagnosed Liu with liver cancer.

Both Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, have repeatedly asked to be allowed to go abroad for medical treatment. The Chinese authorities have allowed Dr. Marcus Buchler of the University of Heidelberg and Dr. Joseph M. Herman of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to visit him in the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang.

After seeing him, the two doctors issued a joint statement in which they said, “Liu Xiaobo and his family have requested that the remainder of his care be provided in Germany or the United States.” Both the German and American institutions have agreed to accept him for treatment but say that “the medical evacuation would have to take place as quickly as possible”.

But, as of the writing of this article, the Chinese government has not given him permission to leave the country.

These events can no longer be hidden. The rest of the world will have to judge whether a country that will not allow its citizens freedom of speech – and even the freedom to choose where to die – is a suitable partner in an effort to build, in the words of Xinhua, “a better world for everyone”.

The day he was imprisoned, an influential blogger wrote, “China’s Mandela was born this Christmas.”

On that day in 2009, Liu Xiaobo prepared a statement in his own defense in which he said: “I have no enemies and no hatred.” He was not allowed to read that statement in court.

The following year, after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, that statement was read out and treated as his Nobel lecture. It is well worth rereading today.

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Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.