Rule of Law in China Knocks Out the “Knock Out” Lawyers
In China, human rights lawyers are being persecuted for defending clients, many of whom are endangered writers.
“Sike” (knock out) is a new Chinese word literally meaning deadly knock. It is a verb or adjective, used to describe a stubborn way of thinking and behaving. In the very recent years this word has been widely applied to the lawyers who fight persistently and sometimes opinionatedly for certain legal cases. In fact, most of the so-called “knock out lawyers”—also known as “diehard lawyers”—are actually human rights defenders. They take on cases that are sensitive and political—or at least have hidden political agendas—and fight their way through the court process with unshakable will and strength. They defend dissidents or underprivileged clients who are involved in “criminal” lawsuits, accused of crimes such as “inciting subversion of states power,” “endangering state security,” “splitting the state or undermining the unity of the country,” “disturbing the public order,” “espionage,” and so on. Exemplary cases include those of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, journalist Gao Yu, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, Uigur scholar Ilham Tohti, and many more.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
The term “sike” was first used by the Heilongjiang lawyer Chi Fengsheng in 2011. Mrs. Chi went to the Guangxi region to participate in the “Beihai” trial in support of her four legal colleagues, who were detained for defending their clients. She comforted and encouraged them to confront the violence with “sike” spirit. A year later, Chi went to Guizhou Province to again support her colleagues in the Jianlibao Group corruption case. She became so agitated at witnessing three defense lawyers being thrown out of court during the procedure that she suffered a stroke in court. The word “sike”—deadly knock out—became an even more literal expression.
In official media, the rights defender lawyers are scorned and attacked by the government paid “50 cent” commentators; they baptize these lawyers as “sike-cult” and criticize them of hyping and of being conceited, their only purpose being to fabricate a sensation in court to gain fame and money.
Yet, there is no doubt that nowadays an attorney with a sense of justice has a hard and dangerous life; they are living in the margin of verbal and physical violence, imprisonment, torture and even death.
“If I am sentenced or taken into custody over one year without any trial, or disappear for more than a year, you should divorce me… Take care, raise our child. Let him learn the songs which I have written.” This is a translation of the letter from the Guangdong lawyer Xu Lin to his wife; it sounds like a testament. The large crackdown on the rights of lawyers since July 9 has created both anxiety and strong sense of persistence among the legal workers. Xu also belongs to the “sike” category of lawyers. He started his letter to wife with the following: “In the past two days several lawyers were suddenly arrested, some citizens were also taken away, it seems that the crackdown shall begin. I could be one of them too. If I do not contact you after more than two hours during the day, it means that I am arrested. Should this happen, don’t worry, just leave me alone, do not hire a lawyer. You know nobody in our circle. Besides, so many are arrested, those who are still free are not safe either, they are busy in helping the arrested, so don’t bother them. Lawyers outside of our circle are not reliable, no need to waste the money.”
Another female lawyer, Wang Shengsheng, is pregnant. In the event of her disappearance, she has asked her colleagues to continue three measures on her behalf:
2. Pay attention to the expropriation of farmland in Guangzhou.
3. Take care of her unfinished cases.
She said: “The unborn baby and I will have to experience hardship. We insist on not being slaves and not having our wills violated.” The 28-year-old Wang shows guts, even though she has enough reason to be intimidated. A year ago, when she went to Heilongjiang Province to support the four arrested and tortured colleagues—lawyer Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian and others—the police raided her hotel room at night. They put a black hood on her head and bound her hands behind her back for 24 hours. They threatened to revoke her law license and close her office in Shenzhen. This police action has incited the public’s rage; netizens have posted the picture of the “black-hooded woman” online.
The July crackdown mirrors the long years of confrontation between the state power and the new force of civil society with the bold “sike” lawyer group at the front. Nearly 200 lawyers in at least 22 provinces have been arrested, detained, and interrogated in the July operation. Most of them were released after a short time, but as of July 22 there were still over 20 kept in detention. The state’s propaganda machine is working enthusiastically to comply with the blitz; it badmouths the lawyers as rogues, hooligans and bloodsuckers, who are collecting money from the poor and disturbing the social order. The People’s Daily justified the operation as necessary “to smash a major criminal gang that had used the Beijing Fengrui law firm as a platform since July 2012 to draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order.”
After the crackdown, United States Congressman Chris Smith reacted promptly with these words: “The lawyers detained are some of China’s brightest and bravest people, people I admire, whose skills and energy should be embraced, instead of repressed.”
Even in China, the notorious action has generated a spirit of solidarity. Guangdong lawyer Wang Quanping was incarcerated last year because he stood up for his colleague, the accused lawyer Ding Jiaxi. Along with several other lawyers, Wang Quanping wrote a letter opposing a revision to an amendment of the Criminal Law, which he said would further limit defense lawyers and damage the judicial process. Consequently, 529 lawyers from across China signed the letter to support him. Now free, with neither a legal license nor regular income, Wang still donated 100 thousand RMB (ca. 16000 US $) out of his savings from the past 10 years at his practice to fund a “July 10 volunteer lawyer service group.” This starting fund is intended to provide for the expenses of any colleague who works voluntarily to help the detained lawyers.
In his opening statement, Wang Quanping said, “we must overcome the fear, show solidarity to others, and assume historical responsibility. I want to warn the authorities: a lawyer’s duty is to protect the dignity of law, if you do not offend the law, there will be no ‘knock out,’ you cannot arrest all the lawyers.”
In China, politics are intervening with the law. As a result, chaos is breaking out in the country’s already foggy legal system. President Xi Jinping wants to throttle society’s awakening forces, a fight against a windmill he wages in vain. The mill cannot be stopped; the wind that moves it is everywhere.