The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post.
China’s helter-skelter pace of economic growth in recent decades has often ripped through the countryside like a tornado.
Farms and villages have been unceremoniously uprooted to make room for housing, highways and high-speed trains. Farmers and landowners responded in waves of protest, furious at being shoved out of the way with little compensation.
This is where Chen Jianfang got her start as an activist in the 2000s, challenging the government over farmland seized for development in her village near Shanghai.
She was beaten up by thugs and police and was sent to a labor camp for 15 months.
Undeterred, in 2008 she began a broader advocacy for the rights of grass-roots activists and citizen petitioners.
She has been a thorn in the side of the ruling party-state and on March 20 was detained.
Chen has been held incommunicado ever since and is being charged with “subversion of state power,” which can lead to a long prison term. This is yet another in a string of cases since China began six years ago to silence the lawyers and activists who support the struggling human rights movement.
It is further evidence that China’s system of justice is a fiction — laws and courts exist, but, at the end of the day, they serve the whims of the party-state above all and offer little protection to the individual.
Chen, 49, is a protege of Cao Shunli, also a well-known activist. According to Amnesty International, they worked together seeking grass-roots participation in drafting China’s report for the U.N. Human Rights Council’s periodic review in 2013.
Chen and Cao staged a sit-in along with other activists outside the foreign ministry in Beijing. Then, in September of that year, China prohibited them from leaving China to attend a human rights training session in Switzerland.
Chen was released after a brief detention, but Cao died from organ failure in a hospital on March 14, 2014, after six months in Chinese detention.
Ever since, Chen has been under surveillance and banned from traveling abroad.
This year, Chen wrote an essay to mark the fifth anniversary of Cao’s death.
She was soon detained and disappeared into the Chinese penal system.
She was later charged with subversion and remains locked up in a Shanghai detention center.
In an open letter, several human rights groups declared last week that Chen has been denied the right to a fair trial, not allowed to meet with the lawyer of her choice, and it is “unclear if she has received any legal counsel in custody.”
Chen should be released and the charges dropped. Helping people claim their rights and raise their voices, to express themselves freely and to protest is not a crime or subversive, except in a system that puts the party on a pillar and the people under a boot.