China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2015/Sep

Human rights

Nowadays, we are constantly reminded of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights as we hear, see and are touched by the many refugees who are seeking a new home in another country in order to be able to live where the declaration is respected.

The Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

For a couple of years now we have witnessed thousands of people taking to boats and crossing the Mediterranean Sea to escape war, poverty and unjust rulers.

People are still doing this even though the way might be fraught with danger as they give their money to criminals who put them on craft that might not be seaworthy.

Many of these boats have capsized because of overloading rough seas and hundreds of people have lost their lives.

Meanwhile, those who have survived are not always welcomed to the shores of the countries where they land.

Article 13

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecution genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In the last few months we have watched another wave of refugees fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa.

They number in the millions and many are hoping to settle in countries of the European Union. Some have been received in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates have not accepted any refugees.

The lifeless body of a three-year-old Syrian refugee, Aylan Kurdi, on a Turkish beach – one of many children and adults who have lost their lives on the journey to Europe – shocked the consciences of onlookers worldwide.

Germany and Austria have opened their borders to accommodate more refugees. Both the governments and people of these countries are leading by example, giving the stream of refugees a home.

Other countries have been doing what they can to help. The United Nations has called on countries to accept as many as 100,000 refugees by the end of this year.

Pope Francis has asked parishes and other religious houses to open their doors to accept refugees.

Human rights lawyers in China

Since mid-July, many lawyers have been arrested or seemingly disappeared across the country.

According to the figures compiled by the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers’ Concern Group, since early July more than 280 human rights lawyers, advocates and some of their relatives and assistants have been either been summoned for questioning, formally detained or simply disappeared (BBC, September 10).

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Li Heping, one of China’s best known human rights lawyers, was picked up at his office by a group of plainclothes police who then escorted him home.

“The door opened and several strangers came in,” his wife, Wang Qiaoling, said. “I didn’t know what was going on. My husband also came in. He handed me his keys, and he was taken downstairs by two tall men.”

That was the last day she saw or heard of him.

Wang’s nightmare began exactly two months ago, on July 10, long past China’s upper limit of 37 days before the police have to charge or release a suspect.

There has been no official notification of her husband’s whereabouts, his health and wellbeing or any details at all regarding the crimes of which he is supposedly under suspicion of committing.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attack upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Li is a Christian and has spent his career defending those persecuted by the authorities for their religious or spiritual beliefs, as well as those political advocates and dissidents who dare to challenge the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

Wang says her husband is a man of integrity. She has been warned by the police not to give interviews to the foreign media, but has decided to ignore the threat that it will make her husband’s case worse.

She has decided there is no alternative but to fight.

In addition to her refusal to be silenced, she has mounted a legal case against the Xinhua news agency and the People’s Daily, among others, in an attempt to get them to print an apology and pay compensation for slandering her husband.

“I simply don’t understand why so many lawyers have been arrested, we no longer have emperors: no one can just take our lives at will,” Wang said.

Zhou Shifeng who represented former Die Zeit news assistant, Zhang Miao, was “forcefully taken away” by three unidentified men from a hotel in Songzhuang, a colleague, Liu Xiaoyuan, from the Beijing Ruifeng law firm, told the media.

Zhang walked free after spending nine months in detention for helping the German magazine report on Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligation and any criminal charge against him.

Another human rights lawyer from the same firm, Wang Yu, was taken away from her home in Beijing according to the BBC’s Chinese-language website. The BBC also reported that Wang’s husband and son have also been incommunicado since the incident.

Relatives of recently disappeared lawyers and rights advocates wrote a letter to China’s minister of public security on August 29. They brought up their many concerns about their loved ones.

They said, “Since July 9, their loved ones have been disappeared and they include 17 lawyers, their assistants and law firm staffers, as well as six rights defenders. Their disappearances all followed the same pattern.”

The relatives said that they were taken away for allegedly provoking disturbances.

“On July 18 our loved ones appeared on CCTV’s morning news. We were flabbergasted to find that, while we hadn’t received any written notice about them, they were already found guilty on TV without a trial.”

They wrote, “Is this a demonstration of ‘governing the country according to the law’ emphasised by our General Secretary Xi?”

They followed that up saying, “Over the years, Chinese police are known to the world for extracting confessions through torture in the investigation stage. Even though China has long ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, we have little faith that the law will protect the safety of our loved ones when the authorities would not even acknowledge their whereabouts” (China Change, August 29).

Just recently, a Beijing court turned down a request to release Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent mainland human rights lawyer, who has been held without trial.

The police detained him in May last year, initially on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after he attended an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Pu’s family has not been able to visit him. His wife has pleaded for his release, citing his various chronic illnesses.

Pu has taken on many high-profile rights cases, including defending artist, Ai Weiwei. His said that no one should be regarded as a criminal before being convicted, but he has been locked up for over a year (South China Morning Post, September 9).

Article 29

Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any rights to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

The General Assembly proclaims: This Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

China is a signatory of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

China’s constitution also speaks of human rights. It needs to be asked how government officials can do what they are doing to the lawyers who protect the human rights of the nation’s citizens.