Jiang Tianyong, Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Released

This headline is not one seen often enough, especially in reference to China. The Associated Press has just reported that China released one of the most prominent activists taken into custody since a massive security crackdown was launched two months ago to stamp out any Middle East-inspired protests.

Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing human rights lawyer, returned home Tuesday evening and appeared to be relatively well, his wife Jin Bianling said today.

“I think he just wants to rest for a while,” Jin said.

Jiang had last been seen on February 19 visiting his brother in a Beijing suburb, where police grabbed him and threw him into a waiting van. His family were given no information on his whereabouts or on what charges he was being held. His disappearance was seen as part of police attempts to thwart any protests the following day as called for in an anonymous Internet appeal.

According to the organization Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, Jiang specialized in cases concerned with religious persecution, in part because of the discrimination he himself faces as a Christian in China. His clients have included Buddhist leaders, Falun Gong practitioners, and Uyghur activists. As a result of his activism, Mr. Jiang has been denied access to his clients; placed under surveillance; detained and interrogated; prevented from traveling; and disbarred; while his family has been harassed, threatened, and physically abused.

On July 9, 2009, the Beijing Justice Bureau announced that Jiang Tianyong’s license to practice law would not be renewed. After his disbarment, Mr. Jiang faced continuing harassment. On Novemer 9, 2009, Mr. Jiang returned to Beijing after spending four weeks touring the United States speaking about human rights abuses and testifying before Congress. Upon his return, he was detained and interrogated; his wife was beaten, and his 7-year-old daughter was interrogated. In September 2010, Mr. Jiang and his family repeatedly returned home to find that the door locks had been filled, preventing them from entering; the police refused to investigate.

Mr. Jiang is no longer permitted to travel internationally. In May 2010, he was blocked from flying from Beijing to Hong Kong; and on October 30, 2010, he was prevented from flying to the United States, where he had been invited to observe the midterm elections and meet with congressmen, U.S. district court judges, and legal scholars, on the grounds that if he left China he could endanger state security. On February 1, 2011, Mr. Jiang was stopped at the border of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, from where he had hoped to travel to the United States for a human rights conference, on grounds that he was a suspected criminal. He disappeared on two weeks later.

Jiang was among dozens of well-known lawyers and activists across China who have vanished, been interrogated or criminally detained for subversion in recent weeks as China’s authoritarian government, apparently unnerved by events in the Middle East and North Africa, has moved to squelch dissent.

The most high-profile person targeted by authorities so far is Ai Weiwei, famed Chinese artist and outspoken government critic, who had been keeping an informal tally of the recent detentions on Twitter before he disappeared early this month.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, based in Hong Kong, said in a notice today that 18 other lawyers, activists and dissidents remained missing, including Teng Biao, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, and rights lawyer Li Tiantian, who both disappeared on the same day as Jiang.

Front Line, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which campaigned for Jiang’s release issued this statement: “Front Line welcomes the release from police custody of human rights defender and lawyer Mr. Jiang Tianyong…and [we] remain concerned by reports that up to 19 other human rights defenders are still missing, including human rights lawyer Mr. Teng Biao, who was abducted on the same day as Jiang Tianyong and has not been heard from since. A day after his abduction on 19 February, police from the Beijing Public Security Bureau reportedly searched Teng Biao’s home and confiscated items including two computers and a printer. In December 2010, Teng Biao was detained, assaulted and seriously threatened by police officers when he attempted to visit the mother of a friend under house arrest.”

It is unknown whether Mr. Jiang is free, will face charges or is under house arrest.

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