Liu Wei: Fighting for Human Rights in China

Liu Wei walked out of a hearing in 2009 when a judge refused to allow her to defend her client, a member of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Soon after, the government suspended her license and permanently revoked it in 2010 on the charge of “disrupting courtroom order and interfering with the courtroom process”—a serious punishment typically reserved for lawyers convicted of a crime. This was the permanent revocation for such a case.

Based in Beijing, Wei is one of a group of twenty lawyers targeted by the Chinese government for their involvement in politically sensitive cases. She continually faces harassment and intimidation from the police.

Wei has represented victims of illegal land requisition and home demolition, people discriminated against for having HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis B parents of the victims of melamine-tainted milk powder, and fellow defense lawyer Ni Yulan (倪玉兰). In 2008, she offered legal assistance to Tibetans facing prosecution following a spate of riots. She also pushed for direct elections within the Beijing Lawyers Association in 2008 and 2009. And in June 2009, she was an initial signer of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for fundamental changes in China, including an independent legal system, freedom of association, and the elimination of one-party rule.

Even by the Chinese government’s low standards, the environment for activists is dismal. In 2011, at least 200 people, including may lawyers “disappeared” in 2011, and this year, the government is increasing its use of unofficial detention centers, so-called “black jails” to hold dissidents and has sentenced several prominent activists to lengthy prison sentences. “[T]here’s been a significant crackdown on dissension, political discussion, even the rights and the activities of lawyers who advocate on behalf of people who have been poisoned from tainted food and medicines,” U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said recently.

Lawyers who represent members of Falun Gong often face persecution. Wei’s partner, Tang Jitian, was among those who were “disappeared” last year. Another lawyer, Gao Zhisheng was convicted for ‘subversion’ in 2006. He went missing for almost two years and is currently undergoing a 3-month ‘education period.

Despite being disbarred, Wei continues to fight for human rights. On Jan. 17, 2011 Wei, along with 18 other Chinese lawyers, wrote an open letter in response to the torture by the police of human rights lawyers Gao Zhisheng and Fan Yafeng. The letter decries torture and calls on China to uphold the laws prohibiting it. On Feb. 9, 2011 Wei and fellow activist Shen Zichen (申子辰) wrote an open letter to the national Women’s League and a local Women’s League branch in Heilongjiang province. They called for a thorough investigation into the case of Liu Guiying (刘桂英), a female lawyer who was forced to terminate her pregnancy after an allegedly violent encounter with police.

The human rights situation in China is not expected to improve any time soon. As the government prepares for a transition of power, it is likely to intensify its crackdown on dissidents, and courageous activists like Wei will operating under increasingly dangerous conditions.

Human Rights First Celebrates Inspiring Women for Women’s History Month. Check out their stories.

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Published on March 8, 2012

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