On the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Lynch talks to China’s beleaguered public interest lawyers about their expectations for this week’s visit to China by President Obama, a former public interest lawyer himself:
To say that public interest law in China is a small, burgeoning field is an understatement. Only a handful of lawyers take on the cases of the most weak and vulnerable of Chinese society, and in a country of close to 1.4 billion people, there are a lot of these cases. These are the cases on behalf of parents who lost their only child in the Sichuan earthquake and who want justice from the local government for shoddy school construction; or cases that seek to protect the rights of members of Falun Gong to practice their religion, a right guaranteed under the Chinese Constitution; and cases as simple as protecting individuals infected with HIV or AIDS from discrimination. While these lawsuits can all legally be brought under Chinese law, politically they are dangerous. And the weiquan lawyers who bring these cases, cases that the Chinese government sees as upsetting their narrative of a “harmonious society,” subject themselves to harassment, disbarment, and, in the case of Hu Jia (pronounced Who Gee-ah), prison time.
These weiquan lawyers want President Obama, a fellow public interest attorney and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, to acknowledge the importance of their struggle when he comes to Beijing. “I don’t have great hope [for the visit],” attorney Liu* (pronounced Leo) admitted, “but it is important for [President Obama] to say something.”
“When Clinton and Pelosi came to China, they spoke little of human rights,” Beijing lawyer Tang*, who was detained by police for a few days this past June, noted. “But I want Obama to speak more about these issues.”