China Human Rights and Rule of Law Update, No. 1 - March 5, 2014

Commission Letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping

In February, nine members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China issued a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping expressing serious concern over the worsening crackdown on Chinese citizens peacefully exercising their internationally recognized rights to freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion in China. They called on President Xi to end the crackdown and to release all Chinese citizens who have been unjustly imprisoned. The letter was signed by Commission Chairman Senator Sherrod Brown; Commission Cochairman Representative Christopher Smith; Senator Carl Levin; Representative Frank Wolf; Representative Mark Meadows; Representative Robert Pittenger; Representative Timothy Walz; Representative Marcy Kaptur; and Representative Michael Honda. A full text of the letter is available at:  


Hearing: China’s Compliance With the World Trade Organization and International Trade Rules

On January 15, 2014, the Commission held a hearing on “China’s Compliance With the World Trade Organization and International Trade Rules.” Panelists included David Horn, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, AK Steel Holding Corporation; Elizabeth Drake, Partner, Stewart and Stewart; Thea Lee,  Deputy Chief of Staff, President’s Office, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations; and Timothy Webster, Assistant Professor of Law; Director, East Asian Legal Studies, Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Commission Chair Senator Sherrod Brown provided an opening statement. Cochairman Representative Christopher Smith and Senator Carl Levin also submitted statements for the record. Other Commissioners in attendance included Senator Jeff Merkley, Representative Mark Meadows, and Representative Tim Walz. Commissioners’ and panelists’ written statements and a video recording of the hearing are available at:


New York Times Correspondent Leaves China in Latest Setback for Foreign Journalists

On January 30, 2014, New York Times journalist Austin Ramzy departed Beijing after Chinese officials refused to issue him a resident journalist visa. The refusal makes Ramzy the third New York Times journalist in 18 months to not receive press credentials or a resident journalist visa. This latest setback follows a reported deterioration in the Chinese government’s treatment of foreign journalists in China in recent years and what one organization says is an increasing use of visa delays and denials to influence coverage.

Chinese Authorities Arrest Uyghur Scholar Ilham Tohti and Students

On February 20, 2014, Chinese authorities formally arrested Uyghur scholar and founder of the Web site Uyghur Online Ilham Tohti on charges of separatism.  Authorities had previously detained Tohti on January 15, 2014, at his home in Beijing municipality. Around the same time in January, authorities also detained around eight or more young Uyghurs who reportedly had either been Tohti’s students or had contributed to Uyghur Online. Authorities reportedly formally arrested three of those students in February, while others may remain in detention. These detentions follow a series of clashes in 2013 in Xinjiang that have led to increased security over Uyghur communities in China.    

Xi’s Anticorruption Drive: Trials for Transparency Advocates, New Rules for Officials

Over the past year, authorities detained, arrested, or sentenced numerous individuals, many linked to the “New Citizens’ Movement,” for their anticorruption and transparency advocacy activities. In January 2014, Beijing courts sentenced some of these advocates. Other advocates employed strategies to highlight perceived violations of legal procedure, triggering suspension of their trials. Additional advocates are in detention awaiting trial. The crackdown highlights Chinese officials’ disregard for provisions in international law and in China’s own Constitution protecting freedom of speech, association, and assembly. In addition, authorities’ response to advocacy efforts appears incongruous with official anticorruption rhetoric.

Xu Zhiyong Tried for Advocacy of Education Equality and Official Transparency

The trial of Xu Zhiyong, a prominent legal rights advocate and leading proponent of the New Citizens’ Movement in China, reportedly began on January 22, 2014. Chinese authorities indicted Xu Zhiyong on the charge of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” after months of confinement at home (April–July 2013) and criminal detention and arrest (July–December 2013). The government alleges that Xu was a “ringleader” of incidents that took place in 2012 and 2013 during which individuals called for education equality for the children of migrant workers and the disclosure of government officials’ assets. Xu’s legal representative claims the case involves procedural irregularities. In addition to Xu, Chinese authorities have detained or indicted dozens of Chinese rights activists for “illegal assembly” or “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” since spring 2013, which human rights advocates assert is part of a systematic crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly.   

Amendments to Consumer Protection Law Allows for Public Interest Lawsuits With Limitations

On October 25, 2013, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed an amendment to the PRC Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, effective March 15, 2014. The amended law contains provisions that could improve consumer protections, including a measure allowing for public interest lawsuits. The lawsuit provision has drawn mixed reactions in part because it limits legal standing to one government-sponsored non-governmental organization (NGO), the China Consumers’ Association (CCA). Questions also remain over the way suits will be handled, including uncertainty over how China’s courts will adjudicate cases and whether the CCA has the capacity to effectively administer public interest suits. Reports in 2013 from Chinese and international media sources indicate product safety and quality issues remain widespread in China.