November 18, 2009
BEIJING–At 10:13 AM (Beijing time), nearly 200 nervous-looking Public Security officials seized two Chinese human rights lawyers outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, who were trying to establish a meeting with U.S. President Obama before the end of his visit to China. Five human rights lawyers in total contacted the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday morning, but were unable to set up a meeting, due to the President’s busy and preset schedule.
The lawyers were determined to answer the invitation generally made by U.S. officials (as reported by the media), indicating President Obama would be interested and willing to meet with fellow human rights lawyers while in Beijing. Shortly after receiving a call from the U.S. Embassy announcing they would not be able to meet, the state police guard seized the two lawyers and interrogated them in the neighboring hotel for over an hour. The lawyers were strictly warned and informed, “You are not allowed to meet with President Obama. We will hold you until he leaves Beijing.” The police then escorted the two lawyers to their homes, where they were to be held under constant surveillance by police guards until Obama left this afternoon.
Two of the five lawyers outside the embassy were among six Chinese legal defenders who recently returned to China after visiting the United States to raise awareness of the conditions for human rights lawyers. During their visit, they spoke with members of Congress and the Department of State, testified in a hearing before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (10/29), and presented a panel discussion with law students at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. The legal defenders’ testimonies, along with the awareness efforts of other human rights groups and fact-finding reports in the U.S., seem to have made a combined impact on Congress–as thirty U.S. Representatives signed a bipartisan letter to President Obama on November 10th, calling for him to speak out on human rights and religious freedom while in China. The first issue addressed in the list of recommended items was the treatment of human rights lawyers. Click here to view the Congressional Letter to President Obama, issued November 10, 2009.
The six Chinese legal defenders returned home this week and last to find their families had been placed under close surveillance by local PSB; many chose not to return home for the duration of President Obama’s visit for the safety of their families. Congressman Frank Wolf personally expressed concern for the safety of the six legal defenders when they returned to China, after testifying in the hearing on October 29. Click below to hear Congressman Wolf’s remarks to the Chinese legal defenders.
Other human rights groups reported similar incidents of house arrest and detention by Chinese officials during President Obama’s visit. Earlier today, November 18, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group reported Li Xiongbing was held under house arrest for the duration of the visit, and attorneys Li Fangping and Li Heping were held under close surveillance for more than three days. Li Fanping was only allowed to leave his home in a PSB car, so police could monitor him constantly. All three were informed the precautions were taken “because of Obama’s visit.” View the full story by China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group on their website.
President Obama’s brief remarks on “expression of worship” on Sunday (see article on BBC.co.uk), and his inaccessibility to the Chinese people throughout his stay was a disappointment for many who had high hopes the President would set a stronger precedent on human rights while there. In the Tom Lantos hearing on Oct. 29, the six Chinese legal defenders repeatedly appealed to the Commission to encourage President Obama to meet with fellow lawyers in China, and for US Embassy officials in Beijing to meet with human rights lawyers on a more frequent and regular basis. After today’s events, a US Embassy officer informed ChinaAid President Bob Fu that he regretted the President’s inability to meet earlier this morning, and expressed the Embassy’s desire to invite the lawyers to a meeting in the near future.
Despite the negative implications of Chinese state police and media stifling the voice of human rights defenders, ChinaAid President Bob Fu is hopeful. “By bluntly declining to meet with these attorneys who are willing to take this risk and waiting for the whole night for this meeting to happen, it sends a regrettably chilling signal… But we look forward to the U.S. Embassy keeping their word with future meetings.”
Read the testimonies of Jiang Tianyong, Dai Jinbo, Zhang Kai, and the submitted testimonies of Li Fanping, Cao Zhi, and Wang Guangze–Chinese human rights legal defenders who spoke before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on October 29, calling for more interaction with the US Embassy in Beijing.
Watch the video below to hear Jiang tianyong’s remarks on Gao Zhisheng and religious freedom cases to Washington media and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission: