The Chinese authorities have intensified a crackdown against lawyers. Today a legal research center run by activist lawyers who have challenged state policies on issues including Tibet was shut down. In Tibet, there is further evidence that lawyers are being blocked from defending cases of Tibetans in prison following the protests that began last year, and as a result there are particular fears for the welfare and safety of film-maker Dhondup Wangchen, arrested last March after completing the documentary ‘Leaving Fear Behind’.
Dhondup Wangchen, 37, is currently being held in Xining and is in poor health, suffering from Hepatitis B. According to his wife, who lives in exile, he is not receiving any medical treatment. There is particular concern for his welfare as he may soon be tried, and is not allowed to be represented by the lawyer of his choice, Chinese lawyer Li Dunyong from the Beijing Gongxin law firm. Dhondup Wangchen was arrested last March following the completion of interviews of Tibetans about the Beijing Olympics and the Dalai Lama for his documentary.
Closure of ground-breaking think-tank Gongmeng
Around 20 officials from Beijing’s Civil Affairs Bureau arrived at the offices of the legal research center of the Beijing-based lawyers’ organization and think-tank Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative) this morning (July 17), and confiscated computers and other equipment. Xu Zhiyong, one of Gongmeng’s lawyers, told Associated Press today that the legal center was a department within Gongmeng, which he said was properly registered. Office manager Tian Qizhuang was quoted by AP as saying: “We didn’t want to resist them, but what they are doing violates the law. […] Shutting us down is the same as shutting down Gongmeng.”
Lawyers from Gongmeng have become well-known for their pioneering work in public welfare the organization offers legal aid and recently represented parents whose children became ill in a widespread scandal involving milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. In May, the group published a bold and remarkable report challenging the official position that the Dalai Lama “incited” the protests that broke out in Tibet in March 2008, and outlining key policy failings by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on Tibet. (See analysis and translation at, Bold report by Beijing scholars reveals breakdown of China’s Tibet policy. An ICT panel discussion on the Gongmeng report can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/InterCampaignTibet)
The shutdown of the legal center followed fines of 1.4 million yuan (US $200,000) being imposed on the organization by Beijing’s tax bureau, which claimed the group had not paid certain taxes. Gongmeng staff were notified only three days ago (July 14) of the fines. Details of the fines and Gongmeng’s position are detailed in a blog posting by Xu Zhiyong (see details below), who writes: “A fine of 1.42 million yuan probably doesn’t amount to much as far as many enterprises are concerned, but as far as Gongmeng is concerned this is cruel and evil; this is not a fine against Gongmeng, it is a fine against the children poisoned by tainted milk powder, against the education of children of migrant workers, against the property owners bullied by real estate companies, against petitioners waging their battles for justice. It is a fine against the thousands and millions of powerless in need of help, and it is a fine utterly devoid of conscience.”
In a further move that appears to be designed to silence and intimidate activist lawyers, the licenses of 53 lawyers in Beijing have been cancelled, which effectively bans them from working. (AP report, July 17, 2008, citing a notice on Beijing Justice Bureau’s website). Jiang Tianyong, who has been involved in the defense of two prominent Tibetan monks over the past year together with Li Fangping, is on the list of those whose licenses are cancelled.
Chinese lawyers blocked from defending Tibetans
Senior Chinese lawyers have been blocked from defending three Tibetans currently in prison in Tibet, including Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen, detained on March 26, 2008, soon after completing filming of the documentary ‘Leaving Fear Behind’. The film documents Tibetan views of last year’s Beijing Olympics, the current situation in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. (See: http://www.leavingfearbehind.com/)
According to information published on a Chinese-language blog site and sources who know Dhondup Wangchen, lawyer Li Dunyong, from the Beijing Gongxin law firm, has been blocked from taking on the case. Li Dunyong is said to believe that Dhondup Wangchen’s actions in making the film do not constitute a crime under Chinese law. But there are serious fears now for Dhondup Wangchen’s welfare as he is held incommunicado and without access to a lawyer of his choice, and a trial is believed to be imminent.
Dhondup Wangchen is currently being held in Xining detention center in the provincial capital of Qinghai, and has not been allowed visitors. Li Dunyong was among 21 lawyers who signed a petition last year following the protests in Tibet that began in March publicly stating his willingness to offer legal assistance to Tibetans who had been detained. According to the Chinese-language blog site, Li Dunyong traveled to Xining to meet Dhondup Wangchen, but is now being blocked by the Qinghai Justice Bureau and legal authorities in Beijing from taking on the case. (http://woeser.middle-way.net/2009/07/blog-post_16.html.)
Chinese lawyer Li Fangping, who attempted to defend two further Tibetan cases earlier this year together with his colleague Jiang Tianyong, has also been blocked from providing legal assistance to two Tibetan monks from Labrang monastery who have been sentenced for ‘splittism’, according to the same Chinese-language blogsite. Tsultrim Gyatso (Chinese: Cicheng Jiacuo) and Thabkey Gyatso (Chinese: Dike Tankai) were reportedly sentenced at a closed trial on May 21 by Gannan Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in Gansu province.
Tsultrim Gyatso was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime of “splitting the nation” and Thabkey Gyatso was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the crime of “incitement to split the nation”. Both monks appealed following their trial, and are currently being held in the Gansu Province State Security Department detention center. (See: “China denies family access to two Labrang monks serving lengthy prison sentences.” TCHRD, May 27, 2009)
The families sought to hire prominent Chinese civil rights lawyer Li Fangping from the Beijing Ruifeng law firm to represent them at the trial. But when Li Fangping went to visit the two Labrang monks last month to prepare for the case, he was denied access. On July 6, he was informed by Gansu High People’s Court that the two monks had already taken on another lawyer.
It is the third Tibetan case that Li Fangping has been involved with. In April, the date for sentencing an important Tibetan lama being defended by Li Fangping and his colleague Jiang Tianyong was deferred.
Phurbu Rinpoche, a highly respected religious leader from Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) in Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Kham) was detained in May 2008 and is being charged with weapons possession and misappropriating state property. The lawyers issued a statement in which they said that “taking criminal measures” against Phurbu Rinpoche, “who is very influential locally and who is broadly respected, would be detrimental to upholding local unity of the nationalities.” (See ICT report and translation of lawyers’ statement, Verdict on Tibetan lama deferred: Chinese lawyers’ statement on charges against Phurbu Rinpoche).
The two lawyers also became involved in investigating the case of the monk Labrang Jigme due to fears for his welfare after he was seized from his monastery by armed police on November 4, 2008. Following the involvement of the lawyers, who traveled to Lanzhou where the senior monk was being held, Labrang Jigme was released from custody after six months of detention without charges. (ICT report, Labrang Jigme, monk who gave torture testimony, returns home)
Professor Jerome Cohen, an expert in China’s legal system, says: “Perhaps the best litmus test of reality in the administration of justice in any country is its treatment of its legal profession. One has to note with both regret and shock that… China’s police including agents of both the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security continue to restrict, threaten, harass, assault, detain, arrest and recommend prosecution of not only human rights lawyers who dare to defend the accused, but also those who give legal assistance to ordinary people who challenge arbitrary government actions.” (‘A Slow March to Legal Reform’, China’s Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges by Minky Worden, Seven Stories Press, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/).
Xu Zhiyong: Heaven in high Gongmeng to be fined more than 1.42 million yuan
Xu Zhiyong posted to his blog an account and explanation of the taxation bureau’s fines against Gongmeng, and graphically details his feelings about the incident. Translation by ICT.
On July 14, 2009 Gongmeng received a “Notice for taxation administration penalty” issued jointly by Beijing Metropolitan State Taxation Bureau and the local tax bureau, for an administrative fine to be paid prior to July 24. The fine for the local taxes is more than 300,000 yuan whereas the state tax bureau is pursuing 180,000 yuan in income tax and imposing a fine of 930,000 yuan, which when all added together comes to more than 1.42 million yuan.
The local tax fine of 300,000 yuan relates to four grants from Yale University Law School since 2006, and a grant from the Gongmeng researcher Wang Gongquan in April 2009. In May 2009, we paid taxes on the four grants from Yale University, and Gongquan’s grant had just been reported for accounting but we had not had time to pay the taxes on it before being investigated. Similarly, the fine from the State Tax Bureau relates to cooperative projects with Yale University Law School, but as we carefully explained, contracts of cooperation from 2007 and 2008 through to 2009 were confirmed as completed, whereas those from 2008 to 2009 are not yet complete, and so the money they gave us can be regarded only as an advance. And furthermore, the funds received by Gongmeng were entirely used for projects such as legal research and offering legal assistance to vulnerable groups with nothing remaining. Where does the 180,000 yuan income tax and the 930,000 yuan fine come from?
Gongmeng is a public interest group, a registered company, and we’d been applying for civil registration [minzheng zhuce]. We’d realized that management wasn’t sufficiently regulated, and we weren’t very clear about commercial taxes and even though I’d stressed that our taxes couldn’t become a legal issue, the accountants we hired weren’t able to help us in time. When our taxes were being inspected we quietly cooperated and even corrected several mistakes on our own volition. However, in the face of ugly hostility, all of our efforts meant nothing. We were fined on the taxes we’d already paid and we were still fined on the income tax even though we didn’t have any surplus income. Furthermore, where the law sets fines between 50% and five times the amounts in question, the tax departments with no apparent reason set the heaviest fines of five times.
A fine of 1.42 million yuan probably doesn’t amount to much as far as many enterprises are concerned, but as far as Gongmeng is concerned this is cruel and evil; this is not a fine against Gongmeng, it is a fine against the children poisoned by tainted milk powder, against the education of children of migrant workers, against the property owners bullied by real estate companies, against petitioners waging their battles for justice… it is a fine against the thousands and millions of powerless in need of help, and it is a fine utterly devoid of conscience.
We have been very careful, we have taken into account those idiots without conscience who shoot their mouths off, we have refused grants from certain foundations, and we chose Yale University Law School because they also give funds to some government departments; I understand them and they love China. The cooperative projects between Gongmeng and Yale University Law School include research into reforms to the Beijing system of residence permits, presenting suggestions for new migrants to enter into the system; seminars on “nail houses” [homes that residents refuse to vacate for urban development projects] and the case of the Party Secretary of Xishou County going to Beijing to arrest a journalist; calls for the rights of residential property owners to be protected; opposing the compulsory removal from school of the sons and daughters of migrant workers; providing legal aid in cases of extreme miscarriages of justice including innocent citizens in Chengde in Hebei sentenced to death five times, and the beating to death by police of Du Xuelei [beaten to death in October 2008 in an argument over a restaurant bill]; presenting suggestions for legal reforms, and presenting suggestions to delegates during the period of the “two conferences” [the annual and concurrent meetings of the national parliament and the body that advises it]. All of our efforts have been to provide rational and constructive advice. We harbor a sincere wish to promote democratic rule of law and justice and fairness, and that has been the pure wish that we have always harbored.
Money for the cooperative projects has all been used up. Gongmeng is made up of a body of volunteers, and all of our members do their work with a strong conscience and sense of justice. Aside from a very few office staff, most of the members do not take any salary and all of our money is used for undertakings of charity and justice. We have no profits, have never planned to reap a profit, and our only gain is our emotion. If the taxation departments want Gongmeng to pay 180,000 yuan in income tax and a 930,000 yuan fine, the enormity of this fine means it can only come from Gongmeng’s current funds donations of 100 and 200 yuan and even of just five or 10 yuan from friends and strangers.
No way! As the legal representative of Gongmeng I would rather go to prison for seven years as punishment there is no way I am giving these five and 10 yuan donations to these animals devoid of any conscience. Calling me, Xu Zhiyong a tax criminal is like being accused of being a thief by a cop in Linyi ridiculous!
There could be ill-intentioned people behind the scenes saying Gongmeng has a political aim, and I confess to some sympathy for this point of view. Our political aim is very clear: for the sake of this country’s democratic rule of law and justice, for the sake of every person’s freedom and happiness and not just for the specific individuals whom we help, and for establishing a healthy and comprehensive system of democratic rule of law, our aim is to allow everyone, including those compatriots who still harbor hostility towards us, to enjoy justice, freedom and respect.
There are those who say Gongmeng only wants to cause trouble in society. It’s as though I see a face dirtied by hatred and depravity saying, got you, you’re fined; give me this massive fine and leave a little on the side for me lets see if you cause trouble in society again! It’s not us causing trouble, and the tens of thousands of mass incidents every year aren’t caused by us, and we didn’t make Yang Jia [executed in November 2008 for murdering six police officers in Shanghai, reportedly in revenge for being beaten in detention and robbed by police]. On the contrary, we strive to bring into line the contradictions caused by corrupt officials, we advocate absolute non-violence and we hope we can ameliorate some of the endless hate and conflicts in our society. We are not solely about those people who have suffered evil injustices, we are also for the higher carnivores. We have a profound duty to carry out for our people do not let this country once more be dragged to a place by those in power where we are dead but not buried, do not let such a disaster happen again to our people.
Why? Why have we been targeted with this retribution? Because we have an awe-inspiring righteousness, because we advocate for better politics, because our dreams are too beautiful, because we as a people have never given up hope, because no matter what befalls, our hearts are always full of the sunlight of hope.
I’m very honored to be a thief again. The first time was in Linyi, when I was accused of being a thief and taken to the police station, and my friend whose eyesight has been failing since he was young and who is highly respected by his local villagers had no lawyer to represent him, and was sentenced to four years for the crime of deliberately damaging property. But this time it was in Beijing, and I stole taxes! I am a poor man, so poor that all I have left are my beliefs. Great leaders, can I give you a little bit of my belief? You should be needing these beliefs and you should, like me, have the ability to show compassion, compassion to see the restless souls disturbed by evil spirits.
I am a poor man, we are poor people, and you cannot extort money from us and neither can you steal our faith in perseverance. We are not angry, and we are not vengeful. We are full of compassion and will continue to tread our path. Gongmeng will not be destroyed, and the conscience of this people and the desire for justice will not be destroyed.
July 15, 2009.