Li Heping (right), a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, was released last week after nearly two years in prison. (Radio Free Asia)Li Heping (right), a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, was released last week after nearly two years in prison. (Radio Free Asia)

After nearly two years behind bars, Li Heping, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, was released from prison last week.

Both his friends and his wife said he was barely recognizable—once robust and healthy, he is now thin and emaciated, his hair turned white, a radical transformation for someone only in his mid-forties.

On July 9, 2015, he was taken away by Tianjin public security officers and sentenced with “subversion of state power.” His arrest was part of a nationwide crackdown in 2015—known colloquially as the “709 Incident”—which targeted over 250 human rights lawyers and activists.

After two years of painstaking advocacy on his behalf, Wang Qiaoling, Li’s wife, was finally able to secure his release. Li was given a four-year suspended sentence, which means he still cannot practice law as before.

Human rights lawyer Li Heping, formerly youthful and robust, looked markedly different and almost unrecognizable after being imprisoned and tortured. (Radio Free Asia)

Representing the Vulnerable

Li Heping garnered prominence for defending political dissidents and vulnerable groups in China, including underground Christians, victims of forced evictions, as well as practitioners of the persecuted Falun Gong spiritual practice.

He also sought to appeal on behalf of blind activist Chen Guangcheng and fellow rights attorney Gao Zhisheng. In 2006, he defended environmental activist Tan Kai, founder of the environmental group “Green Watch.”

In 2007, along with five other Beijing-based human rights lawyers, Li represented Wang Bo, a Falun Gong practitioner, in a prominent case in Shijiazhuang City. In their defense of Wang Bo’s innocence, they jointly published “The Constitution is Supreme, Freedom of Religion”—the first time Chinese lawyers applied Chinese law to systematically defend Falun Gong practitioners as innocent. The defense statement would be frequently referenced by rights lawyers later on when representing Falun Gong practitioners.

As he continued to take on high-profile cases, Li was subjected to increasing harassment, surveillance, and threats by Chinese security forces. In Sep. 2007, he was abducted by plainclothes police and shocked with electric batons for several hours before being left in the woods in the suburbs of Beijing. In 2009, Chinese authorities refused to renew his law license, thus depriving him of his right to practice law and forcing him to turn to legal consultation work instead.

Mounting tensions culminated with his arrest in July, 2015 along with numerous other human rights defenders.

From Defender to Persecuted

According to Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, Li was subjected to constant surveillance while detained—with people guarding him even as he used the bathroom—and tortured with beatings and electric shocks.

Furthermore, while imprisoned, Li was regularly forced to consume unknown drugs, ostensibly for high blood pressure, a condition he did not have.

The drugs resulted in bodily weakness, pain in his muscles, and blurry vision. Other human rights defenders released from prison, including Li’s younger brother, Li Chunfu, have discussed similar experiences of being force-fed unknown medication while detained. After being released in January 2017, Li was soon diagnosed with symptoms of schizophrenia.

According to Heng He, a senior political commentator at New Tang Dynasty Television (a sister media company of Epoch Times) the use of drugs as a form of torture is not an isolated occurrence. In 2001, the American Psychiatric Association began drawing attention to forced administration of psychotropic drugs on Falun Gong practitioners detained at mental hospitals.

Heng says that the force-feeding of drugs was “used at a large scale on Falun Gong practitioners before being used to persecute human rights lawyers.” The purpose, he says, is to “break their will” and to threaten those around them by highlighting the consequences of opposing state policy.

In response to mounting evidence of forced administration of drugs, members of Chinese Lawyers for the Protection of Human Rights penned an open letter on May 14 calling for an independent investigation into the use of drugs to torture rights lawyers imprisoned as a part of the 709 Incident.

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U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke delivers his farewell speech at the Beijing American Center on Feb. 26, 2014 in Beijing. Locke said that Clinton is strong on human rights. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke delivers his farewell speech at the Beijing American Center on Feb. 26, 2014 in Beijing. Locke said that Clinton is strong on human rights. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

Gary Locke, the former ambassador to China, became an internet sensation in that country after he was spotted paying for his own Starbucks and carrying his own bags in the Seattle airport, as he got ready to fly to Beijing to assume his post. He subsequently played key roles in a number of major diplomatic incidents between the United States and China, including the attempted defection of Wang Lijun to the American consulate in Chengdu in February 2012, and the shelter of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng in the American consulate in Beijing, in April of the same year.

Ambassador Locke on Nov. 7 accepted a telephone interview from Simone Gao, a news anchor with New Tang Dynasty Television, an independent, overseas Chinese-language broadcaster and a media partner of the Epoch Times.

Epoch Times here republishes the transcript of that interview, edited for brevity and clarity.

Simone Gao: Ambassador Locke, thank you for accepting this interview. In any presidential election, particularly in this election, American people care a great deal about who the candidates are, because America’s future hangs on the judgement and values of the president. We also know that the most important bilateral relationship in the world in the years and decades ahead will be the China-U.S. relationship. So we want to allow those fundamental values and judgements to be reflected, through discussion of human rights, trade, and national security, with regard to the United States and China. I’d also like to explore why you support Secretary Clinton.

During the past few decades, the framework of U.S. policy toward China has been engagement — engaging China economically to influence it politically. Now China is the second largest economy in the world but it hasn’t gained much freedom, or become more democratic. Instead, foreign investment and technology has boosted China’s economy and provided the Party with more means to tighten control domestically. Meanwhile, China is investing in the United States, and there are concerns that its economic power now influences the United States. If Secretary Clinton becomes our next president, what is her fundamental thinking on economic relations with China?

Ambassador Locke: Well, first of all, let me just say, what a pleasure it is to be able to talk to you about this election, that is so important for the future of Americans. And as you said, for world order, and especially for China-U.S. relations, we need a president who is going to help restore good paying jobs for all of the people in America. We need to make sure that children of working, middle-class families can afford college education. Secretary Clinton is talking about building up our roads and our bridges, which will really improve the safety net and the method of transportation for the people of this country, but at the same time, provide good, good paying jobs for the American people. She is also a trusted, proven leader, and I have known her for over 20 years.

That’s why we also need a person of her stature, leading the United States, representing us in the world. You know, we have differences, we have differences between United States and China. But we also have many areas of common interests. And quite frankly, the world is looking for leadership from both China and the United States, working together, cooperating together, to solve some of these tough, tough world issues, whether it is climate change, whether it is stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear arms, fighting piracy off the coast of Africa, stopping North Korea and Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, or just finding a cure for cancer.k

There are differences between United States and China, and Secretary Clinton is highly respected in China, but she also speaks her mind. And she has the ability to sit down with the Chinese leaders to talk about these issues, and to get changes. You know, she gave her big speech in China many, many years ago, where she said that, women’s rights is human rights. And I was with her when she was advocating on behalf of Chen Guangcheng, the blinded dissident and getting him successfully able to come to the United States. So she speaks up on human rights, she speaks up any time that she believes any country, whether China or Russia or even Germany or France or Canada, is violating international rules, whether it is on trade or human rights.

Simone Gao: There is a well-known remark by Secretary Clinton about trade and human rights in 2009, to the effect that we would not allow human rights to get in the way of trade. In Chen Guangcheng’s recent memoir, he expressed his disappointment with how Secretary Clinton handled human rights in China — both Chen and the human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng believe that Secretary Clinton sacrificed human rights for trade. Do you find this criticism legitimate? What is Secretary Clinton’s basic approach to human rights? Does it belong to the category of foreign affairs, or does it pertain to the fundamental values of America?

She has made it very clear that human rights is part of the DNA of America, and America cares about human rights, and it is always part of our policy and all of our positions. Yes, we support trade but never at the cost of human rights. And if you look at the Chen Guangcheng case, we were all prepared, under her direction and under her leadership, to let him stay in the United States embassy for many many years, if we could not reach an agreement with the Chinese government on his terms. He was setting out the terms by which he was willing to leave the embassy. And if the Chinese government did not agree to those terms, then we, the United States government, with Secretary Clinton’s support, were willing to let him stay in the embassy for several years, the way we have with other dissidents in other countries. 

But Secretary Clinton continued to press and push the Chinese government to let Chen Guangcheng come to the United States. That demonstrated her commitment to human rights. I was there. I saw all these discussions and so, I disagreed when they said that Secretary Clinton did not advocate on behalf of Chen Guangcheng. She was working night and day on his behalf.

Simone Gao: Secretary Clinton is well known for her criticism of human rights in China — she has been advocating women’s rights and criticising China’s one-child policy, however, she has been silent on the most severe human rights violation…

Ambassador Locke: Hey, let me say this, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has had deep respect for the Chinese-American community, and she has been very firm in her discussion with Chinese leaders. And she is a friend of the Chinese-American community in America. She is a friend of the Chinese people. But yes, America has firm differences with the policies of China on trade and human rights, and United States government has always been strong and very candid about those differences.

I have seen Secretary Clinton be very firm and very direct with the Chinese leaders. Now the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is constantly insulting people of different ethnic groups, including the Chinese. Donald Trump wrote me a letter, that is very, very negative, and very insulting of the Chinese people. And he has, throughout this campaign, he has insulted people of different ethnic groups, people with physical disabilities, he certainly has been insulting about women and talking about how he can grope them, about how he can kiss them, just because he is a celebrity, even if they don’t want to be touched or kissed by him. He’s insulted Mexican Americans, Hispanic Americans, a judge, who is a very high-quality judge in America, just because the judge’s parents are from Mexico. He has insulted people of Muslim, Islamic faith, and he talks about, for instance, deporting, immediately, all of the illegal immigrants in the United States. The Chinese people need to understand that ten percent of these illegal immigrants are in fact Chinese.

So when Donald Trump said on day one, he wanted to kick out all of the illegal immigrants and they have to reapply to come back into the United States, he is talking about Chinese Americans, too. So who is the better choice in terms of the Chinese-American community in the United States? A person who believes and has worked her entire life on behalf of children and families, like Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, who talks about giving the wealthiest people in America another tax break? The very, very wealthy, the millionaires of America, do not need a tax break.

Working middle-class families, the people who are struggling, need a president who is going to create more jobs and help their children go to colleges without having to pay tuition. Because we all know that a college education is fundamental to the American Dream, and provides the opportunity and the skills, so that all people, boys and girls, black and white, yellow, people of all ethnic groups, and all religions, can succeed, that’s what America stands for.

America is the land of liberty, hope, freedom and opportunity. We need to make sure that the American Dream can be realized, can be attained, can be achieved, by Chinese-Americans, and people of all different ethnic groups. That’s why America is such a strong country, and why so many people from around the world, want to come to America, because of our freedom, our liberty, our way of life, our diversity, our diversity of people, of different cultures, of different languages, of different religions, men and women working together, and achieving great things.

NTD Television host Simone Gao

NTD Television host Simone Gao

Simone Gao: Tomorrow I will be interviewing the spokesperson from Donald Trump’s campaign, and I’ll ask that person about the issues you raised, including what you said just now that Donald Trump wrote you a letter, where he said insulting things about the Chinese people. Can you elaborate on that? What did he write, exactly? 

Ambassador Locke: Well, he was just complaining about the trade policy, but then, I mean, when I was at the U.S. Department of Commerce, we had concerns about trade policy with China, and rule of law, and making sure that the courts were fair and independent. But the way he said it, was very, very insulting about all Chinese.

I don’t have the letter right in front of me, no. But, you know, it was very, very insulting. And that is his character, he is always insulting people. How can we have a world leader, sitting down, how can we have a US president, sitting down with other world leaders, trying to get them to change their behavior if all he does is insult them?

Simone Gao: Exactly — what people are looking at is not just policy, it’s character, judgement, and values. On that, let me…

Ambassador Locke: I mean, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, openly talks about how, what a good business person he is, because he doesn’t pay his workers, he doesn’t pay his architects, he doesn’t pay his contractors. Well, he is smart, he has been a good businessman. I mean, I suppose you are making money, and saving money, by not paying the people who work for you. But is that a person with good character? Would we want our children to grow up to be like that type of a person?

Simone Gao: Secretary Clinton has been silent on the most severe human rights violation and religious persecution in China over the last two decades, that is, the persecution of Falun Gong. In fact, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has openly raised the Falun Gong issue with China. If Secretary Clinton becomes our next president, what is she going to do about the persecution of Falun Gong? Will she openly demand the Chinese government end the persecution?

Ambassador Locke: Actually I have been with Secretary Clinton when she had raised these human rights issues; she talked about religious freedom and she talked about greater autonomy and freedom for ethnic minorities in China and different religious groups. So, I have seen her, I have heard her, raise these issues to the Chinese leaders.

I am confident she will continue to advocate and push for human rights including greater religious freedom and tolerance within China.

Simone Gao: In June 2016, U.S. Congress passed H.Res. 343, condemning state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China. This action is good, however it is fairly late, and it isn’t enough. Evidence shows that the crime continues to date. If Secretary Clinton becomes the president, what is she going to do about this crime?

Ambassador Locke: Well, I am not part of her administration, so I cannot say what exactly her proposals are and what steps she is going to take next. All I can tell you is that Hillary Clinton has long had a history standing up and speaking out on behalf of human rights and that human rights is part of our foreign policy. We don’t separate it out. It is part of the character of America, which makes us very, very different from most other countries. Human rights is part of our character, that’s why we care about human rights. And I have seen Clinton advocate on behalf of human rights in a way that makes other world leaders perhaps uncomfortable, but she is very open about it, very forthright about it, and doesn’t run from it.

Simone Gao: In February 2012 when Wang Lijun fled to the American Consulate in Chengdu, reports say that you recommended the State Department give him asylum status, but it was rejected. It was also said that Wang Lijun brought a number of top secret documents with him pertaining to the Chinese government’s top leadership power struggle — the U.S. Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee chair requested the State Department to release these documents, but we never heard anything since?

Ambassador Locke: Those allegations are all completely untrue. We cannot give asylum to a person that is still in the country they are trying to leave. If you want to defect, you have to do that when you are outside the country that you are trying to leave. You cannot do it when you are still in that country.

Simone Gao: So you didn’t recommend the State Department grant him asylum?

Ambassador Locke: It was impossible, you could never have done it, if we wanted it to.

Simone Gao: So you didn’t do it?

Ambassador Locke: If let’s say, let’s say, let’s say, let’s say you are a Russian general, and you have all these secret documents, and you are to defect and you want to seek asylum. If you go to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and you say, I want to defect, I want asylum, you have to ask for asylum when you are in the United States or outside of Russia. You cannot ask for it when you are inside Russia. How can we get that general out of Russia? If he comes to U.S. Embassy in Russia and we want to give him asylum, how do we get him to the United States? How do we get him outside of Russia? If we drive out him outside, from the embassy to the airport, the Russian police, the Russian military has the authority and the power to stop the car. They do not have to let the car take him to the airport. Even if we put him on an airplane, the Russian government does not have to let the airplane take off. So how do we get that Russian general outside of Russia. That’s why, anytime, for instance, a Russian ballet dancer defects and seeks asylum, they do it when they are visiting another country, maybe they are on tour in France, maybe they are on tour in Canada. Then during a break, they somehow go to the French embassy or the US embassy, and they say, I want to defect, I want to leave Russia, I want to become a citizen or I want to go to United States to defect and to seek asylum. You do it when you are no longer in the country you are trying to leave.

Simone Gao: At that point in 2012, the U.S. Consulate was surrounded by security forces directed by Bo Xilai and the mayor of Chongqing, but somehow you decided to give Wang Lijun to the head of national security — is that true?

Ambassador Locke: Well, a lot of these things are classified and I cannot comment on it because it is classified information. But let me just tell you this: We were not going to let him walk out of the consulate in Chengdu, because he would have been apprehended and taken into custody by the security forces from Chongqing sent there by Bo Xilai. And we feared, we were concerned for his safety. We knew that just letting him walk out of the consulate would be very dangerous for him and that he might not be seen again. So, and because he cannot seek asylum, it is physically, legally impossible to seek asylum, to defect to the United States, if you are still in China at that time, we enabled him to make phone calls to Beijing and to talk to people who could guarantee his safety out of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. We helped him secure safe passage out of the consulate in Chengdu.

Simone Gao: Thank you for that clarification. Were any of the documents he brought related to forced organ harvesting?

Ambassador Locke: I am not at lib… I cannot say .. I am not going to confirm whether or not there were such documents.

Simone Gao: OK. I touched on this question before, but let me ask again: You are well known in the Chinese community, and you’re a familiar figure to everyday people in China. These people will want to know: Why do you support Secretary Clinton?

Ambassador Locke:  Because she is a proven, effective leader. She works with people of all different political backgrounds and beliefs to get things done, to benefit the American people. She has very clear policies and goals for creating more good paying jobs for the American people, making sure that the children of working middle-class families can attend a college or university, without being in debt. And she is a respected world leader. And we need a person that our young people can look up to as a role model, and we need to make sure that the children of America continue to have big dreams and know that if they work hard and study hard, we have a president that will work on their behalf, so that their dreams can come true.

We need a president who is going to bring the people of the world together, bring the people of America together, to solve some of the tough issues facing us. We need a leader who values the many ethnic and cultural groups, religious groups, men and women of America, the diversity of America, because it is that great diversity of people — immigrants from around the world — that have made America great. And we need a president who recognizes the contribution of immigrant groups, recognizes the contribution of different cultures and people of different languages, and inspires them to work even harder, so that America is even a better place to live, work and raise a family, so that America continues to be a beacon of hope and opportunity and freedom for people around the world. So that America can be an example to people around the world, and to governments around the world.

Simone Gao: A final question. A peaceful and prosperous China will be a blessing for the world and the United States — where does Secretary Clinton see the positive force that will contribute to peace and prosperity for a future China? How will she work with and nurture this positive force?

Ambassador Locke: Anyone who has seen Secretary Clinton in the past, sees how she brings people together, how she respects people of different cultures, languages, and religions and ethnic groups, and tries to celebrate that diversity and capitalize on that diversity. People of different viewpoints, people with different ideas, when they come together, they actually come up with a better solution. And so many of the issues facing the world cannot be solved just by United States alone or even by China alone, or France alone, or Germany alone. They need world leaders and people of different countries all coming together.

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Protesters gather outside the Royal Ontario Museum on Oct 7, 2015, as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends a private event with Luo Zhijun, the party secretary for China’s Jiangsu province. Luo has presided over a violent persecution in his jurisdiction that saw the deaths of nearly 50 prisoners of conscience. (Epoch Times)Protesters gather outside the Royal Ontario Museum on Oct 7, 2015, as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends a private event with Luo Zhijun, the party secretary for China’s Jiangsu province. Luo has presided over a violent persecution in his jurisdiction that saw the deaths of nearly 50 prisoners of conscience. (Epoch Times)

TORONTO—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne kicked up a small media storm by excluding the press from her meeting with a man accused of presiding over torture and murder, and who is now facing two investigations for his malfeasance in China.

The official is Luo Zhijun, the party secretary for China’s Jiangsu province. Wynne’s office had excluded media from three events held with Luo at the request of the Chinese delegation, though the premier later said it was due to a mistake in her itinerary after multiple news outlets covered the incident.

Luo was in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 7, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Ontario-Jiangsu Friendship Agreement.

Wynne initially said she was asked by Chinese officials to not allow media to attend the events. After being questioned on the issue, she later said a mistake in her official itinerary was to blame, and changed the itinerary to allow a quick photo-op that did not include Luo.

Luo is an ally of former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin, whose network within the Party is being systematically purged by current Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Like many of Jiang’s highest-ranking allies, Luo proved his loyalty by pushing a violent crackdown on Falun Gong in his jurisdiction. According to one count, 48 adherents died in his prisons and labour camps.

Luo is widely believed to be under investigation by Xi’s regime, and the Epoch Times has predicted he will fall.

Michael Chan Connection

But on Wednesday he was on official business in Toronto, at a party hosted by his long-time friend Michael Chan, Ontario’s minister of immigration, citizenship and trade. According to reports in Toronto Chinese media, Luo has a very close relationship with Chan going back to the 1990s.

Chan is currently suing the Globe and Mail for stories documenting concerns from CSIS about Chan’s close relationship with the Chinese regime.

It was not wise for Ms. Wynne to meet such a person who is suspected of massive human rights violations.

— Joel Chipkar, Falun Dafa Association of Canada

The Epoch Times has previously reported Chan’s close ties to the regime, including a proclamation he made of his love for the motherland at a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2009 that included a military parade.

“The motherland is great … the motherland is strong … our overseas Chinese hearts are with the motherland. We are proud of the motherland for its development,” Chan said, according to state-run media.

Double Standard

While Wynne’s events with Luo were closed to the press, some hand-picked Chinese press were there at the invitation of the premier’s office.

A spokesperson for Wynne said they were there as guests, not as journalists.

Jack Jia, publisher of Chinese News, told the Globe and Mail that the Chinese media don’t generally ask tough questions of officials, as way of explaining the special treatment. He also said it was a double standard by Wynne’s office.

However, the Chinese edition of Epoch Times was not invited. When reporter Becky Zhou from the Chinese edition of the paper attempted to attend a reception event held at the Royal Ontario Museum, she was prevented by a staff member of Wynne.

That staff member was Wilson Chan, the former editor of Sing Tao Daily who presided over the paper when a translated Toronto Star article was edited to put a pro-Chinese regime spin on it. He was later hired by Michael Chan’s office, before moving to the premier’s office.

Human Rights Violations

Luo and many of his colleagues are under investigation by the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong. Several have also been sued in countries around the world.

According to the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, Luo was involved in the persecution, torture, and death of Falun Gong practitioners while he held the positions of mayor of Nanjing City, governor of Jiangsu Province, and now in his current post as the Communist Party secretary of Jiangsu Province.

“It was not wise for Ms. Wynne to meet such a person who is suspected of massive human rights violations, let alone kowtow to his desire for privacy and closed-door talks,” said Joel Chipkar, a spokesperson for the association.

Chipkar suggested the exclusive access to Luo prevented him from being served with legal papers.

Lawsuits in foreign countries was one of the only ways those who had suffered torture in China could redress the crimes against them, but that has recently changed.

With the shift in power within the Chinese Communist Party now tilted strongly in Xi’s favour, Chinese people around the world have taken advantage of recent legal changes in China that allow them to sue former leader Jiang Zemin.

Over 100,000 lawsuits have been filed against Jiang for his attempt to wipe out Falun Gong, a campaign that has led to 3,858 confirmed deaths in due to police persecution and tens of thousands of disappeared, many of whom are believed to have died in forced organ harvesting operations.

 

This article was corrected from an earlier version.

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