In an open letter to the delegates of the Chinese regime’s National People’s Congress, civil rights lawyers have urged them to safeguard citizens’ constitutionally protected rights and the rule of law.
Defense lawyers for advocates and participants in the New Citizen Movement are requesting delegates to take measures to put the practices of the Communist Party (CCP) back on track by adhering to the Chinese constitution and protecting the constitutional rights of the citizens. Leaders of the movement, a loose knit group of citizens advocating constitutionalism and rule of law, were tried and imprisoned last year in a series of highly publicized court cases.
Urging the delegates to the Second Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress to confront the facts demonstrated by the trials last year, that the Chinese citizens’ constitutional rights are brutally suppressed and freedom of speech is unlawfully restricted. The lawyers group advises the delegates “to instruct the relevant departments to immediately correct their wrongful practices.”
The trials against the New Citizen activists are classic cases of the regime criminalizing speech, they say. Xu Zhiyong, for example, was sentenced to four years in prison for the crime of “gathering crowds to disturb order in public places,” a flexible indictment which disguises the political intent of the charge.
Xu, a founding member of the New Citizens Movement, had advocated for the disclosure of assets held by officials, legal reforms, and equal educational rights for the children of migrant workers. Court documents contained no testimony that any citizen had accused him or supporters of infringing on legitimate use of a public place, or that there had been any disruption of public access and activity. Most surprisingly, Xu was not present at the events for which he was tried; rather, he was accused of orchestrating events in which people unfurled banners in public places.
The Communist Party’s suppression of citizen speech is deeply concerning, the group of lawyers found. Since Xi Jinping took office, they said, he has repeatedly announced “the Party should tolerate harsh criticism.” However, they point out, the reality has been greater restraint of the freedom of thought and unprecedented restrictions on Internet speech, while those promoting constitutional democracy have been imprisoned.
The pursuit of constitutional democracy has not been correctly regarded as a citizens’ constitutional right, but instead has been viewed by the police and judiciary as the cardinal sin, say the lawyers, while the police’s use of public power to attack citizen’s political rights goes unpunished.
Resolving the major problems plaguing China today rests not on the concentration of power, but on the rule of law, reasons the lawyers group, pointing to the endemic national problems that exceed the scope of authoritarian rule.
Asking if it is authoritarian rule or democratic governance which will save China, the concerned group has submitted a short list of recommendations to the delegates.
The lawyers called for an official investigation into the legality of the trials against the activists, a proposal for the disclosure of officials’ assets, a revised and fair system for public assembly, adequate access to education for the children of migrant workers, and a mechanism to ensure that citizens’ basic human rights are secure. All this will help lead China to a genuine reform, benefiting the country, they say.
But, in a closing counsel, the lawyers advise the delegates to stop neglecting the constitutional rights of citizens while allowing use of public power for the self-interest of the few. Should the delegates continue on the current course, they warn of a bleak future with a serious risk of long term national turmoil.