CECC Marks One-Year Anniversary of Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers & Recent UN Group Opinion Regarding Detained American

CECC Marks One-Year Anniversary of Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers & Recent UN Group Opinion Regarding Detained American

Says China’s “Blatant Disregard” for the Rule of Law Damages Relations, Urge Immediate Release of U.S. Citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis

July 7, 2016

Washington, DC--Marking the July 9th anniversary of the Chinese government’s sweeping nationwide crackdown in 2015 on rights lawyers and legal advocates, CECC chair, Representative Chris Smith, and cochair, Senator Marco Rubio urged Chinese authorities to drop all charges and release those who remain detained or “disappeared” and expressed concern that the Chinese government’s blatant disregard for the rule of law and universally recognized human rights damages U.S.-China relations. The chairs also noted the conclusion of the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, released publicly last week, that U.S. citizen and businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis has been arbitrarily held by Chinese authorities in violation of international human rights norms.  Chinese authorities detained Ms. Phan-Gillis in March 2015 while in China for an international trade delegation visit and have limited her access to legal counsel since that time.  It is reportedly the first time that the Working Group has determined that the Chinese government arbitrarily detained an American citizen. 

“China’s government has taken extraordinary steps to decimate the ranks of human rights lawyers, a profession that has quickly become one of China’s most dangerous. I remain concerned that China is becoming a garrison state, with security forces empowered to lawlessly run roughshod over the rights of China’s citizens in the name of national security. A year after the crackdown on rights lawyers, who still trusts President Xi Jinping’s promise to develop the rule of law in China, this loss of trust has far-reaching implications for bilateral relations that cannot be ignored or wished away,” said Representative Smith. “Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, and so many other courageous advocates for the poor and persecuted, are some of China’s best and brightest; they simply want their country to live up to its highest ideals. And, Sandy Phan-Gillis spent her life promoting expanded U.S.-China engagement. If these people are threats to the Communist Party, then anyone is a threat. Their continued detention is bad for business, bad for China’s global credibility, and damaging to U.S.-China cooperation on a number of fronts.  The next Administration must proactively develop strategies for China that shine a bright light on repression and recognize the critical link between human rights improvements and the advance of U.S. economic and security interests.”

“A year ago this week, Chinese authorities detained scores of rights lawyers and legal advocates around the country, including many of those who were at the vanguard of championing rule of law and protection of basic human rights for their fellow citizens.  Many of these champions of justice, such as lawyers Li Heping and Wang Yu, were detained in secret locations for more than six months, denied access to legal representation of their own choice, and separated from their families and loved ones,” said Senator Rubio. “Their continued detention is a grave human rights abuse for which President Xi Jinping must answer, as is the recent finding by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding U.S. citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis.  Once again it is clear that the Chinese government has zero regard for the rule of law, but rather persists in using the law, when convenient, to repress and control the Chinese people—and American citizens—and disregards the law altogether when it doesn’t serve the Communist Party’s purposes.”


Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers:  Beginning on July 9, 2015, Chinese security officials took into custody more than 200 lawyers and rights advocates within a 48-hour time period in what appeared to be a nationwide, coordinated move against human rights lawyers and advocates.  As of May 2016, Chinese authorities placed at least 23 of these individuals under formal arrest.  Sixteen have been charged with crimes of “endangering state security,” charges which carry serious criminal penalties, including life imprisonment.  Chinese authorities  not only have denied meeting requests made by lawyers retained by the lawyers’ and advocates’ families, but also may have coerced the detainees into signing letters that dismiss these lawyers.  In many of the cases, the authorities did not provide any written notice of detention to the families and refused to identify or provide contact information for the alleged newly appointed lawyers.  Recently, the Chinese government also has mistreated children and family members of the detained individuals. In October 2015, Bao Zhuoxuan, the 16-year-old son of detained lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, was seized in Myanmar (Burma) when he attempted to flee to the United States from China through that country. Chinese authorities also prevented the children of at least four other lawyers and advocates from leaving China, arbitrarily detained a rights lawyer’s brother and prosecuted a rights advocate’s father on a reportedly unsubstantiated “embezzlement” charge.  A recent CECC hearing featured video footage from the wives of three of the detained rights lawyers.  The Commission’s Political Prisoner Database  contains information on the detained lawyers and advocates, as well as more than 1,300 other records on political or religious prisoners currently known or believed to be detained or imprisoned in China.

UN Offers Opinion on the Detention of Sandy Phan-Gillis: On June 29, 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly released it conclusion that American citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis’ detention in China deprived her of rights and “liberty” guaranteed under international human right covenants acceded to by China.  The Working Group has “a mandate to investigate allegations of individuals being deprived of their liberty in an arbitrary way or inconsistently with international human rights standards and to recommend remedies such as release from detention…”  The Chinese government failed to reply to a request for information from the Working Group about Ms. Phan-Gillis, within the prescribed 60-day time limit.  When the Chinese government did eventually respond, it “did not rebut allegations of violations of Ms. Phan-Gillis’ right to legal assistance.”  According to the Working Group, the Chinese government also has deprived Ms. Phan-Gillis “of her right [to] the assistance of a legal counsel,” in violation of international human rights norms.  The Working Group also noted, that according to the Chinese government’s reply, “the detention of Ms. Phan-Gillis has not been authorized by a judicial or other impartial and independent authority.”