WASHINGTON—The 12th National People’s Congress convened on March 5 in Beijing. On March 5 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., a panel discussion convened intending to pressure the Chinese regime’s new leadership on human rights.
Featured speakers were Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who has opposed China’s one-child policy, and Geng He, the wife of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
‘We Don’t Want You to Die’
Geng He said, through an interpreter, that her husband Gao Zhisheng had great mastery of the law and eloquence, and won cases for many victims. But beginning in 2005 when he defended persecuted Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, he came under attack by authorities.
During this time, Gao also renounced his membership in the Communist Party.
Edward McMillan-Scott, vice president of the European Parliament, said he knew Gao before he was persecuted, and that Gao frequently called him when he could get to a telephone. He said, “Gao’s greatness was his exposition of the brutality of the regime.”
McMillan-Scott had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to attend this meeting and a hearing on authoritarianism in Russia. McMillan said, “China has become the most arbitrary, brutal, and corrupt regime in the world.”
Since April 2006—seven years, said Geng He—Gao has been persecuted in various ways. He has been kidnapped and detained for long periods of time and severely tortured by security officials.
For “inciting subversion,” Gao was given a suspended sentence of three years and placed on parole for five years. During this so-called parole period, Gao was “disappeared” at least six times, said Geng He. The longest period he was held incommunicado was 20 months.
Those times when he was abducted by authorities, “He was tortured and treated in a bad way,” she said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) described the time when Gao was beaten for two days and two nights. Smith said Gao told a reporter, “For 48 hours my life hung by a thread,” and that the authorities taunted him by saying, “You must forget you’re human.”
McMillan-Scott said that Gao had told him about two occasions when he had been tortured to the point of near death. Both times he lost consciousness and when he came to, he found men with white coats around his bed, presumably doctors.
Gao told McMillan-Scott that he questioned his torturers, who said, “We don’t want you to die. … We want you to want to die.”
Indignantly, McMillan-Scott said, “That is the definition of an entirely corrupt and appalling regime.” McMillan concluded, “I can’t believe that this regime can continue much longer.”
Gao’s Latest Ordeals
Just days before his parole period was to end in December 2011, Gao was transferred to a remote prison in western Xinjiang Province to serve out the three year sentence—authorities enforced the sentence on the putative grounds that Gao had violated his parole.
Geng He said, “Continuous attention from the international community on the case of Gao Zhisheng will be the greatest protection for him.”
She said that she hopes the new communist leadership would release Gao and allow him to remain in the United States with his family. She asked President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to make an effort to obtain Gao’s release.
She urged Congress and European Parliament members to mention Gao Zhisheng whenever they can in communications with China to “show support and increase protection.”
“It is the same as helping the Chinese people who want democracy and freedom,” she said.
McMillan-Scott said that while there are other dictatorships, China is “the largest and most important dictatorship on earth.” He said that the regime is particularly pernicious not only because of genocide, but for the persecution of religious groups, particularly Falun Gong.
He admires the Falun Gong practitioners who “continue to believe that one day there will be a better future.” He said he believes that too. He envisions a future when “impunity will no longer be the order of the day.”
Retaliation Against Chen Guangcheng
Chen Guangcheng has been in the United States now for nearly 10 months. He had been under a de facto house arrest in Linyi City in Shandong Province when he made a daring escape and fled to the American Embassy in Beijing in April 2012, just when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was arriving for major trade negotiations.
Following a standoff between the two governments, an agreement was eventually reached to allow Chen and his family to leave China and study law at New York University.
Smith introduced Chen, who spent over four years in prison for exposing illegal forced abortions of rural women by China’s one-child policy.
“It took a blind man to really see the injustice of a population control program that makes most brothers and sisters illegal and to hear the desperate cries of Chinese women,” Smith said.
Chen updated his concerns for his nephew Chen Kegui, who was sentenced 39 months in November 2012 in a trial that Jerome Cohen, the foremost expert in Chinese criminal law, described in the Guardian as “the ultimate example of a judicial farce,” where Chen’s nephew was not allowed a defense and the trial was closed from international observation. Chen regards the CCP’s actions against his nephew as retaliation against himself.
The nephew told his father (Chen Guangcheng’s elder brother) in a prison visit on Feb. 28 that he has been tortured by sleep and food deprivation, and has lost over 22 pounds. He was also threatened by the party secretary of the public security bureau that if he appealed his case, they may extend his sentence to life. Authorities also threatened his children and parents with imprisonment.
“So, he [Chen’s nephew] has given up hope in the justice system in China,” said the elder Chen.
Sanctions For Violators
But there may be hope for some justice in the United States. David Kramer president of Freedom House and Smith mentioned a bill that would ban human rights violators in China and their families from obtaining visas to the United States. It would be patterned after the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, passed in December 2012. Smith has introduced a bill that would apply the same criteria globally.
Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) echoed these thoughts when he said that despite China being the U.S.’s second largest trading partner, “Our relationship with China must transcend mere economic interests. We must stand for the rights of the oppressed.”
Along with the names of over 3,000 practitioners who have died in prison camps from torture are also the names of their perpetrators of torture, said McMillan-Scott. He said somehow he hopes that “in due course, the United States, the European Union, and other entities around the world can unite in a viewpoint that impunity is at an end.” He doesn’t know the mechanism, but he hopes that one day the guilty will face trial.
The purpose of the panel discussion Human Rights Challenges in China was to pressure the new leadership in China while informing the American public of the repression in China, according to Kramer, moderator of the event.
The event was hosted by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that promotes the expansion of freedom around the globe, and ChinaAid, an international Christian human rights organization that promotes religious freedom and the rule of law in China.
“There has been some hope that the new party leadership would institute fundamental reforms,” said Kramer. But, he said, “I think it is much too early to say.”