Detained Rights Lawyer Shortlisted for Rights Award

Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been named among the ten shortlisted nominees for the Dutch Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights Tulip award. The annual €100,000 prize recognizes "individuals or organizations that promote human rights worldwide in innovative ways" in order "to support human rights defenders and organizations, boost the visibility of their work and inspire others." The current public vote, which closes on September 6, will select three finalists from whom the Dutch foreign minister will pick the winner.

Wang remains in custody awaiting trial more than two years after the 2015 Black Friday or 709 crackdown on and activists, long after others have been released or tried. According to ChinaChange, "no one has heard, seen or spoken with Wang for over 700 days. Reliable sources have claimed that he has been subjected to electro-shock torture, amongst other forms of torture. Wang has refused to admit guilt or incriminate others." His wife, Li Wenzu, has become a key member of a loose alliance of relatives that has opened a "new front" in advocacy for political detainees.

The Tulip award site describes Wang’s work as follows:

has pioneered the use of social media in his approach to human rights defense, using public advocacy in tandem with legal representation. He promotes the idea that in China reliance on the law itself is insufficient to protect basic human rights and presses for change. He is actively training and working together with other rights defense lawyers, locally-based ‘barefoot’ lawyers, and victims, to develop a social movement. is the founder of a system of legal aid stations, which at one point spanned 10 provinces, where key “barefoot” lawyers offered pro-bono legal aid to victims in their home communities. Through this program, over 1,000 public interest lawsuits were filed, including province-level changes to law and procedure. Besides these initiatives, Wang has developed the Urgent Action program, setting up and providing an infrastructure for lawyers and Human Right Defenders who seek financial support for the cases they work on, as well as providing direct financial assistance to HRDs at risk or to their families. In this way he institutionalizes support for the larger community.

Wang Quanzhang’s fight for the protection of basic human rights has not gone unnoticed. The government of China has flagged him as a threat to national security and he disappeared on August 3, 2015. As of today, he still remains in incommunicado pretrial detention. His fate hangs in the balance, as the government seems intent on convicting him for crimes against national security. His ongoing secret detention and the severity of his treatment is likely in reprisal to his refusal to issue a forced confession, or to denounce his work or partners, as has been common for many of the other lawyers detained under the “709 Crackdown.” [Source]

Elizabeth Lynch went into greater detail at China Law and Policy, explaining why she believes Wang deserves recognition:

Wang is perhaps the quintessential human rights lawyer. Even before graduating from Shandong University Law School in 2000, he was already representing some of Chinese society’s most vulnerable: members of the banned spiritual sect of Falun Gong. From there, he extended his practice to assist farmers whose land was being confiscated, criminal defendants and other civil rights activist. Throughout, he received constant pressure from the Chinese government to discontinue his practice and in 2013 was taken into custody by Chinese police merely for defending his client in court. But instead of ending his advocacy, the Chinese government’s pressure only emboldened him. Wang criticized the Chinese government in a series of blog posts under the pen name Gao Feng and in 2014, traveled to Heilongjiang to protest the illegal detention of other human rights lawyers. But for Wang, practicing law was not enough. He also sought to elevate the legal profession in China and joined forces with a small foreign NGO in Beijing – Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (“China Action”) – to teach and support other human rights lawyers throughout China on how to effectively advocate in a one-party dictatorship.

[…] China – the world’s second largest economy – offers another way by which to order society. A world where human rights take a back seat to economics and alleged national security issues. Unfortunately, the rest of the world appears to be largely playing along. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo laid unnecessarily dying in a Chinese prison hospital, imprisoned for his speech, not a single world leader made a public peep about it at the G20 Summit that was happening at the same time. As Beijing dismantles Hong Kong’s democracy, Western democracies largely remain quiet. In May 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignorantly stated that promoting human rights “really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.” In June 2017, Greece – which has been able to economically recover largely through the support of China – vetoed the European Union’s condemnation of China’s human rights record. And this has only been the last four months. With the nomination of Wang Quanzhuang for the Human Rights Tulip, the question arises – how many times can the world turn its head and pretend that it just doesn’t see? Is this who we really are? If the answer is no, then please vote for Wang Quanzhuang here. From the top three, the Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Dutch Government will choose a winner. [Source]

Hong Kong Free Press’ Catherine Lai reported comments from a former colleague of Wang’s:

Human rights advocate and researcher Michael Caster, who worked with Wang at the NGO China Action until it was shut down by the Chinese government, told HKFP that Wang deserves the award as much for his devotion to human rights as for the environment in which he fought and suffered.

“Wang is a co-founder of an NGO that trained hundreds of lawyers and rights defenders around China, and developed innovative guides for greater success,” Caster said. “Wang is one of the few rights defense lawyers across China to never stand down from representing clients who others feared to touch, from Christian leaders to Falun Gong practitioners.”

[…] The last Chinese recipient of the prize was , a former lawyer who was jailed twice after giving legal advice to Beijing residents whose homes had been slated for demolition.

Caster said of the award: “As much as an honor to a deserving human rights defender, this award stands to pierce some of China’s authoritarian exterior, showing that despite threats of diplomatic or economic reprisal, the world stands with and recognizes the sacrifices and devotion of Chinese human rights defenders such as Wang Quanzhang.” [Source]

China Action co-founder Peter Dahlin was detained and deported from China in January 2016. He and Caster wrote an op-ed in support of Wang for The Guardian that September.

Resident CDT cartoonist has created a campaign poster in support of Wang’s nomination: