Trial of Chinese civil rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong

Published: 24 November 2017 Author: Stefan Talmon

Jiang Tianyong was a prominent Chinese civil rights lawyer who took on politically sensitive cases before being disbarred to practice law in 2009. He then became a legal activist advising dissidents and activists and publicizing the plight of lawyers detained in China. Jiang was detained on 21 November 2016. In March 2017, he apparently gave an interview to a State newspaper and was shown on state TV saying that he had made up a story about a lawyer, Xie Yang, being tortured in custody. On 22 August 2017, he was put on trial in a local court in Hunan province on charges of incitement to subversion of State power.

On 25 August 2017, the German ambassador to China made the following statement on the trial of Jiang Tianyoung:

“We are closely following the trial of Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, the hearings of which took place in Changsha this week. For years, Jiang Tianyong has campaigned with great commitment for human rights and the rule of law in China, including the lawyers and activists affected by the so-called ‘709 crackdown’.

We are concerned that throughout the proceedings Jiang Tianyong has not been allowed access to the lawyers of his own choosing and that he was obviously prejudged before his trial had even begun by means of a ‘confession’ aired by Chinese media. Under these circumstances, a fair trial is impossible. We call on the Chinese institutions to ensure proceedings are conducted with due process and in adherence with relevant United Nations conventions, and to enforce the stated objective of the Chinese leadership of strengthening the rule of law.

Ever since his arrest in November 2016, the Federal Government has raised Jiang Tianyong’s case in high-level meetings with Chinese officials. Germany will continue to take an active interest in his fate.”

On 21 November 2017, Jiang Tianyong was sentenced to two years in prison for inciting subversion of State power and was stripped of political rights for three years. Within hours of the sentencing the German ambassador to China issued the following statement:

“We regret the sentencing of Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong to two years in prison by the Intermediate People’s Court in Changsha on charges of inciting subversion of state power.

The serious concerns regarding the lawfulness of the legal proceedings against Jiang Tianyong have been explicitly expressed not only by this Embassy on several occasions before. They include the denial of access to lawyers of his own choosing and the fact that he was obviously prejudged through a ‘confession’ aired by Chinese TV before his trial had even begun. The circumstances and the lack of regard for the rights of the defendant certainly call into question the fairness of the verdict.

Ever since his arrest in November 2016, the German government has raised Jiang Tianyong’s case in high-level encounters with our Chinese partners. Germany will continue to take an active interest in his fate.”

On 22 November 2017, the Government spokesperson in Berlin also expressed regret over the sentencing of Jiang Tianyong and voiced concerns about both the fairness of the judicial proceedings and their compatibility with the rule of law. The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office also criticized the proceedings, inter alia, for denying Jiang access to lawyers of his own choosing. On the occasion of the International Human Rights Day 2017 on 8 December 2017, the German ambassador to China once again expressed “serious concerns regarding the lawfulness of the legal proceedings, caused especially by the denial of access to lawyers of his own choosing and the pre-trial airing of a so-called ‘confession’ by Chinese state media.”

Germany has been particularly outspoken about a crackdown in recent years on civil rights activists in China. During the 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 19 September 2017, the Federal Government urged “China to immediately release all detained human rights defenders, including Jiang Tianyong […] and to allow visits of the UN Special Procedures.”

Germany’s reference in the ambassador’s statement to Arelevant United Nations conventions’ was misplaced. The right to a fair trial, including the right to have counsel of one’s own choosing, is provided for in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But, while China signed the Covenant on 5 October 1998, it has not yet ratified the treaty and thus is not bound by it. Reference might have been made, more generally, to Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which provides that everyone is entitled “to a fair and public hearing” in the determination of any criminal charges against him. The UDHR has been adopted as a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and, as such, is not legally binding on China. However, the fundamental principles enunciated in the UDHR are widely considered to be part of customary international law which is binding on all States. This, however, does not necessarily mean that China is under a specific obligation under customary international human rights law to provide persons charged with a criminal offence access to lawyers of their own choosing.

Category: Human rights

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Author

  • Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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