Human rights in China

Justice must be seen to be done for Wang Quanzhang

  • The trial of the human rights lawyer hardly soothes long-standing concerns about the judicial process by which Beijing suppresses internal dissent
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 10:40am

Wang Quanzhang is one of 300-odd lawyers and activists swept up in the “709 crackdown” on a growing movement in defence of human rights, named after the day it began in July 2015. What sets him apart from all the others is that he remained behind bars for nearly 3½ years until his trial in Tianjin just before Christmas, almost two years after he was finally charged with subverting state power.

Supporters claim this is a violation of his rights. The trial, in which Wang dismissed his government-appointed court representative, shed no light on the case. It was conducted in secret as the court claimed it involved state secrets, with police and security guards sealing off his wife’s home in Beijing to prevent her trying to attend. He is still to learn his fate. The first batch of trials arising from the crackdown, of four lawyers and activists for subverting state power 2½ years ago, is not a hopeful precedent. Two were sentenced to 7½ and seven years’ jail after all four pleaded guilty. Those proceedings were liberal by comparison and even transparent by mainland standards, with the authorities inviting selected media, politicians and academics to attend, and claiming that no families were present at the request of the accused. The Post said then the outcome sent the wrong message about Beijing’s commitment to the rule of law.

China’s last ‘709’ rights lawyer on trial, but wife forced to stay away

We cannot go into the details of Wang’s case because we don’t know anything about them. But his trial hardly soothes long-standing concerns about the judicial process by which Beijing suppresses internal dissent. These are more pertinent than ever as Beijing spreads its soft global power and influence as the champion of multilateralism by default from the United States. In this respect a secret trial after prolonged deprivation of freedom presents a terrible image of modern China. A credible judiciary is fundamental to the well-being of a nation. The importance is also recognised by President Xi Jinping, who has pledged to uphold the rule of law. At stake is the perception of the judicial system. To maintain public confidence, justice needs to be done and manifestly seen to be done. Transparency so completely missing from the case of Wang Quanzhang is paramount.