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'No rule of law'

Liu Shenjun / rc
April 25, 2014

While visiting China, German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel had scheduled a meeting with human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping. In an interview with DW, Mo claims he was prevented from attending by the powers-that-be.

China - Human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping speaks in his office in Beijing on June 23, 2008. Mo, 50, only has a tiny office situated between the Forbidden City and the Communist Party leadership compound of Zhongnanhai, but for years it has been his base for challenging the mighty state in defence of famous dissidents. AFP PHOTO/Peter PARKS (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

DW: Several agencies reported the failed meeting between yourself and the German Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Gabriel. What happened?

Mo Shaoping: The German Embassy made contact with me. I was told that the Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Gabriel wanted to meet me. They got in touch with me on April 22 at nine in the morning. I was told that the meeting should take place in the Hyatt Hotel in Beijing - where Mr. Gabriel was staying - at 5 p.m.

However, at about 11 a.m. some police came to my office and said that they had come on instruction and that I would not be allowed to attend the meeting. I asked for the specific reason and the legal basis for this, but they made it very clear to me that that I would not be allowed to attend the meeting.

They also warned that the Beijing security authorities were not happy that, the previous week, I had met with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. So under no circumstance was the meeting with Mr. Gabriel to take place.

So you were prevented from attending the meeting. How did the German Embassy respond?

The embassy expressed their regret. They could not understand the behavior of the Chinese government. It was impossible to explain why the police were making such a big issue of Mr. Gabriel meeting with a lawyer.

Were there any problems with the earlier meeting with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier?

There is a back story to that. When Steinmeier was Foreign Minister the first time around, seven years ago, he had wanted to meet myself, Liu Xiaobo (the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who has been jailed since 2009) and Ding Zilin (one of the so-called "Mothers of Tiananmen"). But this meeting did not come to fruition; that is to say, there were a lot of police standing outside my front door. We talked about that last week. Minister Steinmeier said "After seven years we have finally managed to see each other."

What topics was the German foreign minister interested in talking about?

He was interested in human rights and rule of law issues in China. The Germans wanted to hear something other than the official statements.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier Foto: Tim Brakemeier/dpa.
An earlier visit by Steinmeier did result in a meeting, which appeared to upset authoritiesImage: picture-alliance/dpa

What were the specifics of the discussion?

I spoke about rule of law. I expressed my opinion that, in China, there were laws but no real rule of law. Of course, a constitution exists, but it has no validity. I explained what the main problems of the legal system were, in my view.

First of all, some people think they are above the law and even when there are clear legal prohibitions, these are ignored.

The laws are, secondly, only selectively applied. I mentioned the (Chinese government's) anti-corruption campaign. I would guess that this wave of anti-corruption is not a campaign that has a legal framework. Everyone should be equal before the law, but there is no question that isn't the case here. Rather, it is a targeted movement that has its own special interests.

Third, is concentration of power. A fundamental principle of the rule of law is the separation of powers. No state institution and no individual should possess more power than other institutions or people. But that is exactly what is happening at present in china. Xi Jinping now hold nine government offices and is increasingly concentrating power for himself.

We also spoke about use of the Internet. It could be said that the government is increasingly strict in its control of the web. As a result, we have taken a significant step backwards, at a national level.

What was Mr. Steinmeier's opinion about that?

He spoke in quite a general way, he said China was a big country and went on to say that rule of law and human rights in China were being intensely scrutinized. Efforts would be made to press for an improvement in both rule of law and human rights in China.

The meeting with the economics minister was not possible. Why do you think the other meeting, with Steinmeier, was able to take place?

What can I say? I think that the police didn't know about it. The Germans had not contacted me directly, but my assistants. The meeting with Gabriel was organized in a different way, with the embassy contacting me directly.

What would you say about such behavior on the part of the Chinese?

There is not legal basis for the meeting not to have been allowed. For me, it is not the first time I have been prevented from meeting foreign politicians. Two years ago, I wanted to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. That didn't work out either.

Xi Jinping Photo: Federico Gambarini/dpa
Xi has been accused of attempting to concentrate power in his own handsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

What would you have said to Vice Chancellor Gabriel if the meeting had taken place?

As a rule, it is the case that foreign politicians use such meetings to get informed. They conduct the meetings and we show them what the situation is locally, sharing our experiences and our opinions. I am a human rights lawyer and, as a result, rule of law and human rights are the main issues for me. We would, for example, talk about whether China's legal system was making progress.

On that subject, have you seen progress concerning the legal system - in particular since the new leadership took office?

In terms of legislation, it is possible to see progress. Also, there has been an improvement when it comes to the quality of judges - the courts as a whole have improved. However, I remain of the same opinion. The problem is that the judiciary is not truly independent. As long as there is no independent justice system, one cannot talk about rule of law.

Mo Shaoping is regarded as China's most prominent human rights lawyer. Among his clients have been Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiabao, at his trial in 2009.

The interview was conducted by Liu Shenjun.

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