Asians, China, Civil Rights, Crime, New York Times, Quote of the Day, Torture, Violence

Quote of the Day: The Law Is Serious Business (Seriously)

Chen Guangcheng

The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness. China does not lack laws, but the rule of law.

— Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times. Guangcheng is currently studying law at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at NYU Law School.

(Keep reading to see how Guangcheng describes the lawless conduct he and his family have allegedly faced — at the hands of law enforcement — in his homeland.)

As much as some liberals tend to pooh-pooh the American tendency towards self-congratulation (disclosure: guilty as charged), reading tales like this really helps to keep things in perspective. We are lucky to live in the United States. Guangcheng provides some background about criminal law in China:

Although China’s criminal laws, like those of every country, are in need of constant improvement, if faithfully implemented they could yet offer its citizens significant protection against arbitrary detention, arrest and prosecution. Countless legal officials, lawyers and law professors have labored for decades to produce constitutional and legislative rules intended to prevent a recurrence of the nightmarish anti-rightist campaign and other “mass movements” of the 1950s and the later abominations of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

No doubt, America has more than its fair share of criminal justice problems. But at least people don’t disappear or receive beatings from police for basically no reason. Oh yeah, and in the U.S., attorneys aren’t banned from defending politically unpopular individuals:

But those protections have been frequently ignored in practice, as they were in my case and in the case of my nephew, Chen Kegui. After the local police discovered my escape from my village in April, a furious pack of thugs — not one in uniform, bearing no search or arrest warrants and refusing to identify themselves — scaled the wall of my brother Guangfu’s farmhouse in the dead of night, smashed through the doors and brutally assaulted my brother.

After detaining him, the gang returned twice more, severely beating my sister-in-law and nephew with pickax handles. At that point, Kegui tried to fend them off by seizing a kitchen knife and stabbing, but not killing, three of the attackers.

Kegui, who is 32 years old, was then detained in Yinan County and, absurdly, charged with attempted homicide. No one has been able to reach him, and he has most likely been tortured even more severely than his father was. Although China signed the United Nations convention against torture in 1988 and has enacted domestic laws to implement it, torture to extract confessions is still prevalent.

Moreover, none of the lawyers his family has sought to retain have been allowed to work on the case. Instead, the authorities have announced that Kegui will be forced to accept the assistance of government-controlled legal-aid lawyers.

Best of luck to Guangcheng in his civil rights work and his legal studies. It takes a lot of courage to speak out as he has. We hope his time in America goes well and that he continues to stay safe.

How China Flouts Its Laws [New York Times]

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