If it was said that previously I did my utmost to avoid the circle of human rights lawyers, it would be because of lawyer Li Heping. I really couldn’t stand the police watching the front door of my own home every day; I couldn’t stand my husband being thrown into various police substations when he was working on cases in different locations; and I couldn’t stand my husband being black-hooded, kidnapped, and violently beaten. After the 709 Crackdown, I wanted to understand why these lawyers became human rights lawyers, and how they could choose a path of thankless work, little money, and unavoidable slander in a field that outsiders perceive to be paved with gold.
After being in contact with human rights lawyers for five months, I can sincerely say from the bottom of my heart: this group of human rights lawyers is the elite of the elite, the conscience of lawyers!
All those billionaire plutocrats, those high officials who have finally maneuvered their way to the top, are seen as the elite in the eyes of the world. But the real elite are not them at all! Only those who still possess a shred of conscience can have the opportunity to become the elite. In societies with a rule of law, it is not rare for lawyers to handle cases in accordance with the law. But in an environment which purports to have a rule of law but in fact allows unscrupulous trampling on the law, legally protecting defendants’ fundamental rights is to risk being suspected of “subversion of state power” or “provoking troubles,” or risk being “disappeared.” Therefore, I call human rights lawyers the elite of the elite, not because of their erudition or abilities—of course they are outstanding, but any lawyer can do what they do—but because of their dedication, perseverance, and refusal to give up.
They persist in demanding protection of the fundamental yet deprived rights of each of their clients: the right to meet with a lawyer, the right to communicate, the right to freedom from torture, etc. It is precisely because of this that police, procuratorate, court, and other officials, who, originally at odds with human rights lawyers—including those disgraced officials who locked away Li Zhuang—desperately want to find one as soon as they are implicated in a criminal case. Because they know: only human rights lawyers will indomitably defend their fundamental rights, so that they may receive the maximum legal assistance and personal safety.
Therefore, let our former enemies who are thrown into prison, where money and power are no longer effective, know that human rights lawyers are higher than money and power—they serve only righteousness, and at the same time make people admire them. I feel that they deserve the title of “the elite of the elite.”
Furthermore, I said they are the conscience of all lawyers. Actually, I originally wanted to say “society’s conscience,” but afterwards I thought of lawyers as belonging to society—what is the meaning of this? Lawyers are a civilized society’s last line of defense. Many times, I have heard others relay what one defendant said: “I have inquired with many lawyers, but you are the only ones who are brave enough or are willing to take my case. If you were not here, I would have gone to blow up City Hall or stab people at the entrance of a kindergarten.”
I think back to Yang Jia. If he had met with any of the human rights lawyers from today, I reckon he wouldn’t have gone on a stabbing spree at the police station.
How many Chinese people, after being bullied by authorities, had planned to fight to their death but abandoned this extra-judicial path and turned instead towards seeking legal rights defense only because they met a human rights lawyer? China’s lawyers bear the heavy responsibility of defending civilization and universal values in this era of change. Human rights lawyers happen to be at the vanguard. They have never been heroes; they are just struggling within the entire nation’s numbness to not let themselves become numb. They are the sort of people who, when they see an infant being run over or an elderly person fall, struggle until they finally cannot bear it and stop in their tracks! Nothing more. The help they give is just their own legal knowledge, as they understand it, that’s all. They hold neither guns nor cannons, and have no way to use violence to subvert state power. If they hear mournful cries they stop in their tracks, and finally they lift up the person making those mournful cries. That’s all, nothing more.
Do not call them heroes; they are merely the elite of this society’s elite. They are the last line of defense for a civilized society—the conscience of all lawyers, that is all.
I pay respects to Chinese human rights lawyers. No matter how difficult the environment, fairness and justice are everlasting, compassion and kindness are everlasting!
Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping, lawyer who was disappeared in 709 Crackdown
Written December 10, 2015, on the eve of International Human Rights Day.