While the rule of law is far from perfect in Russia, in China it remains a foreign concept.
updated on Dec. 18, 2020
How dramatic the situation of the Russian and Chinese dissidents is! When I re-read this article of 2013, it sounds like from ancient time, so many things happened in the last 7 years, only the fate of these courageous fighters for freedom and justice does not change. Repeated imprisonment, persecution, murder or immature death are their destiny.
Let’s first see what’s new about Alexei Navalny. As a member of Russian Opposition Coordination Council,the leader of the oppositional Progress Party and the founder of Anti-Corruption Foundation, Navally was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020. He is a man, which Vladimir Putin fears (probably also hates) mostly.
On August 20 this year, Navalny fell seriously ill on board from Tomsk to Moscow. He was transported to Berlin, where he got urgent medical treatment, it was found that he had been poisoned by Novichok. He nearly died. Navalny has been healed and discharged on 22. September. Navalny said publicly in a CNN interview that he is hundred percent sure that Putin was aware of this poisoning action: “The operation of such skill and for such a long time cannot exist without a ruling from the chief of (Russian Security Service) FSB, Mr. Bortnikov. And he would never dare it without the direct order of President Putin.” Navalny survived not only physically, he becomes politically more powerful and received all the respects and support from the free world. We will wait and see how he continues his fight against the autocrat and injustice in Russia. May he be blessed and successful.
Xu Zhiyong has went through a thorny way in the last years. He was arrest in August 2013, half year later, he was sentenced to 4 years. On July 15, 2017 after serving the four years of imprisonment, he was released from the prison. He was shocked by the news that Liu Xiaobo died just two days before he left the jail. Xu continued his social engagement, he is active online to promote democracy. He encourage people to participate the “election” on the lower base, such as on the county level. Xu believes that it is important that people learn the basic concept of democracy through “election”.
In January 2020, Xu wrote an open letter to president Xi Jinping, asked him to resign his “life position ” as president. Consequently, he was arrested by the police in February. All the international protest and support do not show any effect on the Xi administration, Xu Zhiyong will certainly be sentenced to long year of imprisonment.
It seems that all authoritarian governments like to use similar accusations to thwart their opponents. For starters, there was the oil oligarch Mikhail Hodorkovsky, one of the richest and most influential figures in Russian society: Charged with economic crimes, he was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to nine years in prison, until that sentence was extended another five years to 2017. His long imprisonment has leveled President Vladimir Putin’s road to the presidency.
ow Putin has another “economic criminal” in Alexei Navalny. The 37-year-old lawyer and blogger is a Russian opposition leader and one of the most important street protesters and anti-corruption advocates in the country. After calling Putin a “toad” and the ruling United Russia party “a party of crooks and thieves” Navalny received a heavy punishment: Five years in prison.
The official accusation against him was embezzlement. Before the charges, Navalny had intended to challenge the incumbent mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobjanin-Putin’s confidante—by running in the mayoral election in September. If he went to jail, he’d be out of the running. However, before Navalny could be sent to prison, a miracle occurred: One day after his July 18 conviction, he was released unexpectedly. Subsequently, he was celebrated as a hero and will be a candidate in the election on September 9. Is this a political midsummer night’s dream? Is it evidence that there is rule of law in this post-socialist country?
China’s similar, though more authoritarian, government also prefers to accuse dissidents of economic missteps. Government officials accuse them, for example, of tax fraud, such as we’ve seen in the cases of the artist Ai Weiwei, the journalist Du Bin, and many others.
Yet this practice serves only to turn these victims into heroes and highly honored recipients of international awards. In 2008, the Chinese government threw Hu Jia into jail for three years, and in the same year he won the European Union’s Sakarov prize for Freedom of Thought. The government also persecuted Tsering Woeser in 2008 and forbade her from leaving the country. Nevertheless, she received the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State in March, 2013. In another illustrious example, the government sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison in 2010—a fate that lifted him to the level of Nobel Prize laureate.
Other dissidents, like Wei Jingsheng, Xu Wenli, and the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng are also celebrated internationally as heroes. The most recent case is that of the lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who founded the NGO Gongmeng (Citizens Union) in 2005. His NGO aims to offer legal support to underprivileged people. To put an end to this work, the police took Xu from his home on July 16. The police also confiscated his electronic devices. Since then he has been charged with “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and with tax evasion.
In the Chinese legal field Xu Zhiyong could be compared to Robin Hood. If there is unfairness or injustice, he is there. Considering what he has done in the past, it isn’t any wonder that he’s long been a thorn in the regime’s paw. Xu investigated the 2003 death of the university student Sun Zhigang, who died in a detention center as a result of the so-called “custody and repatriation” regulation, which allowed police to check and detain anyone without a residence permit. Thanks to Xu and his colleagues’ efforts, the government has terminated this regulation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Custody_and_repatriation
In the same year, Xu also supported the peasant entrepreneur Sun Dawu. The wealth and influence Sun enjoyed as the result of his cleverness and hard work was destroyed by the authorities in 2003. Convicted of illegally accepting $1.6m in deposits from local residents, Sun’s brilliant career ended when he was sentenced to three years in prison.
Through his NGO, Gongmeng, Xu began helping death row inmates, the left-behind children of peasant workers, and the victims of poisonous baby formula. He worked with people illegally detained in so-called “black prisons” and was the savior of many victims of the one-child policy. He promoted reforming the State Compensation Law, cared for underprivileged Tibetan people, and tried to decipher the socio-economic background of the uprising of March 14, 2008. He initiated the citizen movement and endorsed the appeal for economic transparency of government officials.
In short, Xu has worked to safeguard social justice in an ill society. Moderate and non-violent, his principle is peace.
When the news spread this month that Xu was being kept in the Beijing Detention Center, many admirers and people whom he has helped came to the center to bring him money and food to show their solidarity.
On July 18, about 30 to 40 people gathered in front of the detention center. The alarmed police cordoned off the gate and took more than 20 people into custody. Even Xu’s lawyer, Liu Weiguo, was not allowed to see his client. This is obviously against the law. Lawyer Liu posted on his Twitter account that the authority had asked him to drop the case, but Liu insists that he is Xu’s defense counsel. Liu told the authorities: “As long as you don’t arrest me, I will not retreat. Should I face any obstacle from your side, I will go public. Besides, I am prepared to be put into jail as well. I have selected my lawyer already.”
Even though Xu’s case has reluctantly involved a whole stream of sympathizers and become quite dramatic, the government keeps adding fuel to the fire. Two days after Xu’s arrest, the authorities also shut down the Transition Institute (TI), also known as the Transition on Socio-Economic Consultants Co. Ltd., in Beijing’s Haidian district—an NGO with which Xu Zhiyong works closely. The research company was founded in 2007 by Guo Yushan, a social scientist and human rights defender himself. Its mission is to research “all phenomena and issues related to freedom and justice during China’s transition period, including tax reform, business regulation and reform, citizen involvement, and civil society.”
The police informed Mr. Guo that the institute must not use its existing name. After demanding this, they confiscated all of the institute’s printed materials—about 600 to 700 books, files, and documents.
Practicing law can sometimes be a nightmare in China. Will Xu Zhiyong be as lucky as Navalny? Neither of these two freedom fighters and human rights advocates should have been arrested, let alone sentenced. Yet Navalny is free again after the farce that was his trial, so he can participate in the mayoral election as a candidate. On the other hand, while Xu is still facing trial, he cannot see his lawyer. No matter what kind of conviction he will get, we can be sure that it won’t be a fair trial and that there will be no pardon; he will stay in jail and serve the sentence. Maybe it’s true that the “rule of law” is far from perfect in Russia, but in China it remains a foreign concept. Today many believe that the Xi Jinping era will bring no change.
First published at Sampsoniaway.org on July 31, 2013