Wall Street Journal: China’s Tortured Lawyers

The Wall Street Journal
By Bob Fu
May 29, 2017 12:28 p.m. ET
■ ‘It is truly ‘nine deaths, one life,’ ” my friend Li Heping said, quoting a Chinese idiom to mean he narrowly escaped death. “There were times that I wanted to commit suicide. I survived because of my Christian faith, the courageous advocacy of my wife and the attention of the international community.”

Mr. Li was describing to me the sadistic torture he endured at the hands of Chinese authorities. He was arrested, along with more than 250 other human-rights lawyers, on July 10, 2015 as part of a nationwide sweep that has come to be known as the 709 Crackdown. More than a campaign of intimidation, it’s part of a concerted, coordinated effort to break and humiliate China’s most prominent defenders of human rights.

Despite promises to develop a rule of law, President Xi Jinping’s regime has sought to eviscerate China’s network of human-rights lawyers and rights advocates, viewing their peaceful efforts at legal reform as a national-security threat. Mr. Xi has reinstituted the Maoist practice of televised public confession and embraced a system of torture so horrific it demands an international response.

In addition to solitary confinement in frigid cells, beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and being chained in stress positions, many of those detained during the 709 Crackdown are testifying that they were also drugged with large amounts of unknown substances. Mr. Li, for instance, said he was “diagnosed” with high blood pressure and forced to take 6 pills a day for nearly two years. Mr. Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, provided testimony about this earlier this month to U.S. Representative Chris Smith, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights.

Another lawyer, Xie Yang, released through his lawyers details of the torture he endured, including beatings and being shackled in stress positions. He said his jailers would repeatedly threaten to torture him until he “became insane.” That’s the state that has befallen Li Chinfu, a lawyer now diagnosed with schizophrenia after he, too, was forcibly medicated.

These aren’t isolated stories. Other lawyers detained during the 709 Crackdown are coming forward with similar reports. The list includes lawyer Li Shuyun, lawyer Ren Quanniu, lawyer Wang Quanzhang, legal assistant Gou Hongguo and legal activists Zhai Yanmin, Wu Gan and Jiang Tianyong. China’s pattern of torture-through-medication needs condemnation by governments, medical associations and the United Nations.

At the Mar-a-Lago summit in April, President Trump reportedly confronted Mr. Xi with some blunt questions, among them, why China’s government brutally jails so many political dissidents. Asking blunt questions about the torture and abuse of human-rights lawyers makes a big difference, as Mr. Li says his treatment improved during periods when the U.S. focused international attention on China. It improved after the U.S. election, and following the call by Mr. Trump to Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen. And it accelerated after the Mar-a-Lago summit.

All of this is in stark contrast to the Obama administration. Mr. Trump, for instance, authorized the rescue of Mr. Xie’s wife and two young daughters, whose daring escape to Thailand in February was almost derailed by Chinese agents seeking their repatriation. The Obama administration did little when Beijing spirited other Chinese asylum-seekers out of Thailand in recent years.

The international community should be calling for an investigation into the torture that resulted from the 709 Crackdown. Possible responses could include sanctions through the Magnitsky Act, which targets officials complicit in the torture of human-rights advocates.

Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong and Wu Gan—and so many others—remain in jail and are in danger of horrific torture. We cannot forget them. Silence may equal their death.

Mr. Fu is the founder and president of China Aid, a Texas-based international Christian human-rights organization.

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