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Statement by Lawyer Tang Jingling on Why He Refuses to Appeal His Conviction

January 29, 2016

On January 29, 2016, lawyer Tang Jingling, an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience, was convicted of "inciting subversion of state power" and sentenced to five years in prison. Tang was first detained in May 2014 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” during the pre-June Fourth 25th anniversary crackdown on dissidents.

In this statement, Tang rejects the notion that justice can be found in China’s court system. “Inside the grand edifice of the court, we can see stately and ornate furnishings and decorations, and we can see the government employees in dignified attire. But we cannot see the law and we can definitely not see justice.”

A signatory of Charter 08, Tang founded the “Non-violent Civil Disobedience Movement” in 2006. His lawyer’s license was revoked in 2005 after his participation in the Taishi Village case to remove corrupt officials.

I Will Not Give Up—I Appeal Only to the People and God

By Tang Jingling
January 29, 2016

[Translation by Human Rights in China]

Today, with complete contempt, I calmly meet the dictator’s attacks—this is a judgment made falsely in the name of the law. Inside the grand edifice of the court, we can see stately and ornate furnishings and decorations, and we can see government employees in dignified attire. But we cannot see the law and we can definitely not see justice.

During my more than 20 months in detention—even as early as in 2011, when I was secretly placed in custody inside the Police Training Center on Nanda Road, Panyu District in Guangzhou, and subjected to torture—I carefully reviewed and reflected on my own thoughts and actions: the civil disobedience movement that I am totally committed to promoting and everything that formed the basis of our conviction today. And I am even more convinced of their value in enhancing human dignity and freedom. If the intent of this paper judgement of the dictator—and the accompanying suffering and humiliation it has brought on us and our families—is to force us to surrender or retreat, then it has clearly already failed. Tyranny attempts to frighten us with its savagery, but ultimately it has only exposed its own weakness, and it has only further strengthened my abhorrence for dictatorship. I will continue to promote the process of non-violent self-liberation, because my wish is to make my motherland free.

We are innocent, as clearly as our detention, investigation, prosecution, and trial are guilty. People who love freedom are the natural defenders of law and order: they maintain the same reverence for laws that appear to have nothing to do with freedom. They would not refuse to comply just because compliance would be inconvenient, so as not to undermine the body of law that is effective in safeguarding justice and freedom. But if respect for and obedience to government authority and its exercise signify a derogation of human dignity and a violation of human rights, people have no obligation to cooperate or obey. In that situation, participation may make one an accomplice to evil. It is in light of this—and the fact that this judicial procedure has already clearly been reduced to being a tool of political persecution and a fig leaf for a crime—that I adopt this attitude of indifference. During the trial, I refused to answer questions related to the accusations; only that in so doing, I still did my best to maintain respect for the dignity of the relevant government personnel, so as to avoid transferring the anger I felt towards the dictatorship onto them. I do not know whether they felt my goodwill or not. It is even harder to know whether they, as I did, saw the struggle between justice and evil in the courtroom. Without the pursuit of truth and the courage to abide by one’s conscience, a person will have great difficulty understanding this. And this is precisely the subtleties of non-violence. I hope that everything that I have done as a prisoner can illustrate the possibility of free choice, and spark the thinking of the government personnel involved.

In any case, there will always be those who firmly believe: with regard to the authorities’ allegations against me, I am guilty. No amount of eloquent defense would be sufficient to change their minds, to say nothing of the fact that eloquent defense is not my strong suit. It is also not accurate to say that people holding this view are all driven by partisanship and interests. I believe there are definitely people who, in good faith, have come to this conviction by reason and logic. Irrespective of the situation, my answer to them is: If you want to say that this is a crime, then I am happy to continue to commit it. Just as the line from the legal proverb goes, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

The Holy Bible has a passage that reads: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”[1] Today, we have been pronounced guilty, thrown in prison, separated from our families, and have endured humiliation and difficulties—and I am far from being able to convince or prove to others how these tribulations could have become my blessings. But God’s will is inevitably difficult to understand. I often pray and ask him to give me more strength, so that I may persevere until the moment of revelation. I dare say, in 2011, while in a secret jail, and now in detention, almost every day I have passed has been calm and fulfilling. I have never lost my direction.

Many enthusiastic friends have long encouraged me, and they advised me that if convicted, I should appeal to show my unyielding resolve and avoid leaving the public with the false impression that I’m admitting guilt and accepting the sentence. This is of course very valuable advice. But ever since I was able to meet with my lawyer for the first time, I have repeatedly considered this and made a decision: however my case concludes, I will not appeal to a court under the tyranny of the Communist Party of China. Regarding this case, what we must seek is justice. And as far as my own personal mission is concerned, I seek none other than freedom. Many people would agree with my view that for this case, the appeals court, or any other court under the CPC, will not be a place where justice and freedom can be achieved.

During the hearing, I already discussed this view that it is futile for a person who loses a needle in a dark room to be looking for it outside under the streetlight. In addition, the court is not the center of our fight for freedom, and it’s even less a decisive place. This is true, without exception, even in countries such as Britain or the United States where courts are viewed as national treasures. Since modern times, many lawyers from different countries have become great freedom fighters. This is because after having experienced unimaginable darkness in the courts, they threw themselves into the cause for democracy and human rights defense, and the court is only the starting point of their struggle.

In China, where the construction of a rule by law hasn’t even taken the first step, and where this tradition is also lacking, the reliance on technical legal theories [as tools to achieve justice] can easily mislead the public. Those who hold this view try to make people believe that one can, purely by means of technical and professional legal efforts, fully achieve the objective of protecting human rights within the framework set up by the Chinese authorities, while ignoring that the framework itself is universally and profoundly in opposition to human rights values. This is akin to being ensnared without knowing it.

Through these explanations, perhaps I can more or less relieve some friends’ concerns and, hopefully, let them understand why I decide not to appeal. I would, instead, take this statement as an appeal to the people and God.

Furthermore, it is necessary for me to talk about my overall impression of the CPC’s laws and judiciary. Ever since I began my legal profession in 1998, although the actual judicial practice has gone through a lot of changes—the legal system has become enormously complex and some aspects did improve—all these changes haven’t been remotely sufficient to make me change my fundamental view of this field. That is, they have offered neither fundamental protection of human rights nor credible pledges for such protection. Some human rights clauses have appeared in the CPC’s constitution. But if we do observe and understand the constitution as a whole, we would realize that those regulations are nothing more than decorations. In fact, I have always felt unease in calling this document a “constitution,” and I have never tended to seek in it the lawful basis of the causes of democracy and human rights progress in China. In the Nationalist Government era, our forebears went through bloody battles to become one of the founding member states of the United Nations, and participated in establishing a series of charters imbued with humanity’s majestic character and idealism. The process of their taking roots in China was disrupted only when mainland China fell under communism during the civil war.

I acquired the certificate of my legal professional qualification in summer 1998. One day, I went to the court of Longhu District, Shantou City, to observe a case so as to familiarize myself with the profession I was about to embark on. The court was trying a rape case that was coming to a conclusion. The young defendant suddenly spoke in near sobs about being tortured by the police during interrogation, and said that the kicking shattered one of his testicles. He asked in despair: I haven’t gotten married yet. What will I do in future? In a panic, the judge stopped him from speaking at once. This episode shows the true face of CPC’s judiciary. Up till now, it has not changed. I believe God did not let me see this scene unintentionally. He made me see this so that I would not deceive myself and mislead others with this false illusion just when I entered this industry, and mistakenly believe that laws and a rule of law have permeated the veins of CPC’s governance.

Ten years later, Yang Jia's strike at the Shanghai Zhabei police headquarters was in a sense a response to this young man in despair—the timeless echo of “let us perish, you and I.” Yang Jia was not a hero whom I worship. Nevertheless, to this day, I have not found in myself any moral superiority that enables me to look down on him. I’m afraid someone who has never experienced the unjust insults that others have experienced, who has never burst forth with the courage that surpasses Yang Jia's extraordinary bravery, could hardly understand clearly this problem. In reality, being in a nation secured by enslaving people, bravery is precisely one of the best remedies for a person to restore his or her sound and free character from that cowardice created by autocratic rule.

The saying goes: “As long as Qing Fu is alive, the threat to Lu will not end.”[2] As long as autocracy is not eliminated, the nation will not prosper. After people’s sovereignty [sic] has been abandoned for more than 60 years, more and more common people in China, men and women, through their personal experiences of hardships, have gradually gathered up an unwavering conviction: that the people must regain their political power. Party monopoly and one-man rule have severely corroded the psyche of our people; the people, dominated by fears and deception, and contaminated by suspicions and flattery—have become dispirited and degenerate, seizing personal gains in a frenzy as though there is no tomorrow, and then rack their brains to escape the mine heaps left pockmarked by savage extraction. At the impending critical moment of historical transition, the autocratic authorities of the CPC have, in recent years, continuously arrested and heavily sentenced progressive individuals, wiping out different kinds of public interest NGOs, and, in July 2015, secretly detaining more than 20 progressive lawyers and rights defenders in one fell swoop, laying bare their determination for outright confrontation.

Although there appears to be a great disparity of strength between the two sides, I hope that all those people yearning for freedom—especially those who have not yet set foot in prison, this battleground for freedom—will not lose their nerve in the face of this wave of attacks. An ancient Chinese saying has taught us: "Chaotic forces that attack well-trained forces will perish; wicked forces that attack righteous forces will perish; and forces against the tide of history that attack forces that follow the tides of history will perish."[3] It can be said that this ancient adage directly describes the small group of autocratic forces within the CPC that have usurped state power. In their malevolence toward the people but love for material things, and their use of cudgels to flog everyone—they are the chaotic forces; in adopting the extreme terror of communism from the Western world and applying it universally for self-preservation—they are the wicked forces; in lording over a billion people with the will of a single party, a single faction, and a single person, turning things upside down—they are the contrary forces. Using these three ruinous forces for its relentless attacks only hastens the coming of their own disaster. I am reminded of Leonidas I, the Spartan King, and his 300 men, who went to Thermopylae to face the Persian king Xerxes' army of 500,000. The battle was wretched—they fought until the very last man—but they still sent out news of a peaceful, moral victory. We also need to continue to fight in this difficult land, until we spread the good tidings of freedom!


[1] New King James Version, Matt. 5:10

[2] From Zuozhuan, or Commentary of Zuo, on the ancient Chinese narrative history, Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu 春秋), covering the period of 722-468 B.C.

[3] From Hanfeizi, by Han Fei, ~281-233 B.C., a Legalist from the Warring States period.

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