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A dark week for human rights: the Chinese government abuses the concept of state security to imprison its critics

August 6, 1999

In the latest of a series of trials which represent egregious violations of international human rights standards, an abuse of the law and a slap in the face to the international community, the Chinese government sentenced dissident Liu Xianbin to 13 years in prison, the harshest sentence meted out since that imposed on Xu Wenli in December 1998. Facing the serious charge of "conspiracy to overthrow state power," Liu was unable to find defense counsel as a series of lawyers withdrew from the case following pressure from the authorities.

"Enough is enough," said Xiao Qiang, HRIC executive director. "Those countries in the international community which claim to be concerned about the human rights situation in China must have a strong, united response to these severe and systematic violations of basic human rights. We call on them to begin discussions about passing a resolution on China's human rights situation in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights next year. Dialogue has clearly failed."

The case of Liu and the others tried this week, as well as earlier, show that all our worst fears about the nature of the revisions to the criminal code in 1997 which replaced the provisions on "counterrevolution" with the concept of "endangering state security" are proving to be well-founded. One after the other, people who have done nothing more than peacefully and publicly assert their rights to freedom of expression and association in a manner completely independent of the government are being charged with "subversion" and sentenced to extremely heavy prison terms. The sentencing of Liu, a leading member of the China Democracy Party (CDP) in Sichuan, directly follows that of fellow CDP members She Wanbao, Zhao Jianguo and Gao Hongming, who received prison terms of 12, 9 and 8 years, respectively for subversion. The ridiculous assertion that non-violent advocacy for human rights and democracy are a threat to state power is at the center of these prosecutions.

The proceedings in Liu's case and in those of many others make a mockery of claims that the Chinese legal system can deliver "judicial justice" (sifa gongzheng), as they violate not only international standards but also Chinese law. In these hearings before what can only be described as kangaroo courts, the right to present a defense is completely ignored, proper legal procedure is dispensed with and the judges totally ignore anything said by the defendants and reproduce almost verbatim the prosecution indictments as their "verdict." It is very clear that the characterization of these "crimes" and the sentences to be imposed have been decided in advance by the political authorities. Family members have frequently had great difficulty in getting to attend these trials.

Human Rights in China demands that the Chinese government end this travesty of justice and release, unconditionally, all the peaceful activists sentenced for state security crimes, as well as those imprisoned on trumped up criminal charges. (continued)

The Chinese government's blatant disregard for the standards in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which China signed last October cannot be ignored by the international community, particularly by those countries engaging in bilateral human rights "dialogues" with China which have cited the signing of the ICCPR as "progress" by China. Another type of "progress" cited was the visits of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance (1995) and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1997). But the Chinese authorities have demonstrated that they are intent on ignoring the recommendations of these U.N. experts in staging these trials and in the crackdown on Falungong, as well as in other efforts to restrict the operation of any kind of independent civil society groups.

In the light of this situation, we urge all those governments to suspend these pointless dialogues, which have become nothing but theoretical discussion and empty talk. These cannot be a substitute for real moves towards recognition of the human rights of the Chinese people, which are protected both by international law and in the Chinese constitution. Those countries which claim to be concerned about the human rights situation in China must begin discussions now about introducing a resolution on this matter at the next session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in March 2000.

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