Beijing increases pressure on dissidents as prominent human rights lawyer lost his license

Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang is no stranger to Beijing’s crackdown, but the last time that he became the target of Beijing’s pressure campaign was on December 26, 2017. Since then, he has been able to work as a lawyer handling sensitive issues for almost three years.

However on August 11, he was informed by his employer that the Justice Department of Hunan Province has revoked his lawyer’s license. They also asked his employer to warn Xie not to give interviews to foreign media, or he would face more criminal charges.

Xie said the incident began on August 4, when he was informed by the Justice Department that he was facing an investigation after the department received a complaint against Xie. During the process of questioning, two staff from the Justice Department showed up to tell Xie that the department planned to revoke his license. They claimed that the decision was made based on the court ruling on December 26, 2017, when Xie was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power.”

At the time, Xie told the staff from the Justice Department that he would not accept their administrative punishment. Then on August 11, Xie received a call from his employer, telling him that the Justice Department has sent the notification to his office.

“I was really shocked, and I immediately decided to reject their legal documents,” Xie said. “Their decision has violated the Chinese law, and I will continue to exercise my procedural rights, including the right to file an administrative litigation and administrative review. However, under the legal framework in China, these procedures are probably not going to be carried out properly.”

Based on the notification, the Justice Department of Hunan Province pointed out that even though Xie was exempted from completing his jail sentences, he had allegedly gathered a crowd outside the court before one of his clients’ case began.

Additionally, during the trial, Xie also reportedly hit the table multiple times and cursed at the judges. His behaviors had “interrupted the proceedings in the court.” Xie was also accused of expressing provocative comments online, and all of his behaviors violated China’s law on lawyers. The level of his violation fits the Chinese Ministry of Justice’s punishment for revoking a lawyer’s license, so they made the decision.

However, Xie said according to Article 29 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, if an illegal behavior isn’t exposed within two years, the Chinese government should not carry out administrative penalties against him. “I told them that if they insist on putting me under administrative penalties, I definitely won’t comply, since revoking a lawyer’s license is a serious administrative penalty,” Xie said.

“Not to accept foreign media interviews”

Apart from being informed that his license has been officially revoked, Xie was also told not to give any interviews to international media, as that could cause him to face more criminal charges. However, Xie has always viewed giving interviews to international media outlets as his last resort.

“To be honest, the Chinese government has been warning me not to accept any interview requests from international media outlets since 2017, but I don’t think anyone can stop me from being interviewed by any media outlet,” Xie said. “The most important thing is that I should be responsible for the facts that I said in the interviews. As a result, I have been telling the government that if they don’t want me to be interviewed by international media outlets, they should just put me in jail.”

Since he became a human rights lawyer in 2011, Xie has handled many sensitive human rights cases. During the “709 Mass Arrest” in 2015, Xie was taken away by police in Hunan Province and detained for almost two years. When he was granted the opportunity to meet his lawyer for the first time in 2016, his lawyer Chen Jiangang shared with the international community that Xie was tortured during detention, which led to an increased international attention on Xie’s case.

On December 26, 2017, a court in Changsha, Hunan Province, determined that Xie was guilty of inciting subversion of state power, but because he “pleaded guilty and was remorseful,” the court decided to exempt him from criminal punishment.

However, Xie said in the interview that he was forced by the government to not mention the torments that he experienced in court and he needed to plead guilty. As a result, he “put on a perfect performance in court” for the government, and the government agreed to let him keep practicing law after he was released. “But now, the Justice Department in Hunan Province decides to revoke my license,” Xie said. “This is a breach of their promise in 2017.”

Xie continues to handle sensitive cases after he was released at the end of 2017, and the government often sends police to follow him while he is visiting clients. “They still feel uncomfortable about the fact that I continue to take on sensitive cases, so I think in a way, revoking my license is the accumulation of what I have been doing over the last few years,” Xie said.

“The legal system is CCP’s tool to consolidate control over society”

As Beijing increases its crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists since the beginning of 2020, Xie thinks China’s legal system has become a weapon for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to consolidate their control over China’s civil society.

“The CCP’s purpose to implement a legal system in China isn’t to defend social justice and fairness,” Xie said. “Rather, it is a way for them to consolidate their control over society. The Chinese government often knows that their behaviors are illegal, but they still do it. All they think about is whether their decisions can help to further consolidate their rule over the country. When laws have become parts of politics in China, how can they still be useful?”

Under these circumstances, Xie thinks foreign media has become an important outlet for human rights lawyers in China to reveal important facts. If human rights lawyers follow the legal procedures established by the CCP, they are “taking part in a rogue regime’s judicial performance.”

“I have been telling other human rights lawyers that their opponent is not trying to have a debate about law with them,” Xie said. “Rather, they are simply trying to dictate all legal procedures. If the human rights lawyers are simply defending their clients in court, then the role of human rights lawyer has become meaningless in China. Results of many cases have often been determined even before the legal procedures begin.”

Leo Lan, the Research and Advocacy Consultant for Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Xie’s case shows that any negotiation with the Chinese government won’t work. “Beijing just wants people to remain silent about human rights abuses in China,” Lan said. “If you continue to work on human rights issues and cases, you are doomed to be targeted again. Xie Yang’s experience tells us that there is no way we can trust the Chinese government.”

Xie said Beijing has always used revoking license as a way to put pressure on human rights lawyers’ livelihoods, but since he has chosen to be a human rights lawyer in China, he is willing to bear all the consequences.

“So far, no human rights lawyer has lost their livelihood completely after their licenses were revoked,” Xie said. “While I might become poorer than before, I think there will still be space for me to earn a living.”

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

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William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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William Yang

William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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