the rights practice: partnerships for rights and justice
Director's Blog

27 January, 2017

Over a year ago I wrote here about the work of The Rights Practice and our dismay at the detention of lawyer, Li Heping with whom we had been cooperating, since 2009, to raise awareness in China of the UN Convention Against Torture. It is with a heavy heart that I learnt the other day of credible reports that he was subjected to torture, including the use of electric shock, while he was being held in "residential surveillance in a designated location", a form of incommunicado detention criticised by the UN Committee Against Torture. After over a year and a half in detention his case has still not come before a court. He has had no contact with his family or been able to meet with the lawyers chosen by his wife.

Li Heping faces charges of state subversion, but it is impossible to understand how his work to raise awareness of international law and the problem of miscarriages of justice could be considered a subversive act. Perhaps Li Heping's only crime was his knowledge that torture is always wrong and his belief that lawyers have a moral responsibility to act.

The Convention Against Torture requires prompt and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture.

The Overseas NGO Law has now come into effect in China. The Rights Practice is looking forward to registering an office.

On the eve of Chinese New Year, my thoughts are with Li Heping and his family.

Nicola Macbean

27 January, 2017

13 January, 2016

I set up The Rights Practice from my home office in Paris 14 years ago. During an unprecedented period of detentions and arrests it is hard to recall the sense of optimism which prompted my decision to found The Rights Practice in 2001. Having previously run the Great Britain-China Centre I had worked with many of China's criminal justice reformers and believed The Rights Practice could facilitate the kind of international exchange and learning which all countries need to ensure human rights can be realised in practice.

In the early years The Rights Practice provided access to international, notably British, experience on youth justice and this contributed to the eventual adoption, in the 2013 Criminal Procedure Law, of a provision for appropriate adults to accompany juvenile suspects during police interviews. Since its founding, The Rights Practice has also worked with legal scholars and officials to improve pre-trial protections and prevent the use of torture, including the promotion of external monitoring of detention facilities. While legal scholars and reformist officials play an important role in policy advocacy and piloting new practice, defence lawyers are a critical link in any criminal process that seeks to protect human rights. As part of an initiative by The Rights Practice to engage more extensively with the legal profession I first met lawyer Li Heping in 2008. Since then Li Heping became one of China's many lawyers I have been privileged to meet and work with.

Li Heping became a particular friend and I relished our discussions. He has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and always stretches my own knowledge of English legal history. First and foremost Heping is a lawyer and he is passionate in his advocacy of justice and support for the vulnerable. In the face of many obstacles he has been steadfast in his vision of the role of a lawyer as an independent professional. He believes profoundly that lawyers must be active participants in China's efforts to build a rule of law. In his years of dealing with police surveillance he always tried to remain polite and never missed an opportunity to remind others of the law and their rights, including the police.

The Rights Practice has cooperated with Li Heping over the years to provide training for Chinese lawyers on the UN Convention Against Torture, a treaty China ratified in 1988 but still little known, even among the legal profession. Our aim was to help build his and other Chinese lawyers' capacity to train their peers and raise awareness of international law obligations. In 2012 we began an EU-funded project, in co-operation with Li Heping, to expand the provision of training to lawyers and others working within China to combat the use of torture. I last saw Li Heping at a project workshop providing skills training in interviewing victims of torture.

He has now 'been disappeared' for more than six months along with his assistant Gao Yue. His family, friends and colleagues have received no official notification of the reason for his detention or his whereabouts. Today Gao Yue's family received notice of her arrest. We all worry that Li Heping is at risk of torture (again). I know his strong Christian faith and his self-belief will be of immense help to him at this difficult time. Following its recent review of China, the UN Committee Against Torture called for an end to the use of incommunicado detention and the sanctioning of lawyers. It is a sad irony that Li Heping seems to be a victim of the system he has dedicated his life trying to reform.

Nicola Macbean

London, 13th January 2016

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