Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino has urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make good on her promise to put human rights “at the heart of our diplomacy” with China and make the persecution of public interest lawyers and other activists a priority concern. Massimino’s letter comes less than two weeks after Chen Guangcheng’s arrival in the United States and on the day he penned a New York Times editorial outlining a similar call to action.
Massimino noted that Chen’s decision to seek protection at the American Embassy and his safe arrival in the United States put China’s mistreatment of lawyers and activists at the center of the U.S. agenda. She encouraged Secretary Clinton to keep it there because the dangers faced by these men and women is only intensifying, including ongoing threats faced by Chen’s relatives and those who assisted his escape.
Ms. Massimino said that in its negotiations with China, “the United States should make the end of persecution of lawyers and other activists a priority.” She also stated that Human Rights First welcomes Mrs. Clinton’s recent statement that human rights are “at the heart of our diplomacy” with China and called on her to “demonstrate the seriousness of this approach by raising the plight of Chinese lawyers consistently in your discussions with Chinese officials and urging that other senior officials in the Obama administration do the same.”
In particular, the organization is asking that Mrs. Clinton direct the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to inquire regularly about the status of Mr. Chen’s relatives as well as those who aided Mr. Chen in his daring escape and publicly describe the progress or obstacles to ensuring that no one is punished for helping him.
According to today’s letter, China’s public interest lawyers – including Chen – use China’s legal system to challenge the system’s flaws and they continue to pay a high price for these courageous acts. The Chinese government controls bar associations and uses that leverage to pressure lawyers to back away from politically charged cases, like those involving free expression, religious freedom, and the one-child policy. Those who resist the pressure and continue to champion human rights are likely to encounter the crushing power of the police state.
“Lawyer Jiang Tianyong tried to visit his friend Mr. Chen in the hospital after he left the U.S. embassy. Police dragged Jiang away and beat him so badly he lost hearing in one ear. China’s persecution of lawyers makes a mockery of its contention that it supports the rule of law,” Massimino wrote.