Washington, D.C. – Speaking on the U.S. Senate floor today, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, condemned the Chinese government’s oppression of human rights activist Huang Qi and lawyer Xie Yang. Rubio’s speech was part of his #expressionNOToppression initiative, which highlights human rights abuses around the world.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor
May 16, 2017
Rubio: Mr. President, I come to the floor today as part of my office's “Expression Not Oppression” initiative, which highlights human rights abuses around the world and the plight of individuals imprisoned or oppressed for simply exercising their God-given rights.
Earlier this month, we observed World Press Freedom Day, which serves as a reminder that freedom of expression is a fundamental and universal human right, and a free press is vital to a free society.
We should never take for granted the freedom of the press that we enjoy here in the United States. These rights are an integral part of the bedrock of any healthy democracy, and in too many parts of the world they are nonexistent or under assault.
According to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for 2017, press freedom is threatened now more than ever. Governments around the world continue to crack down on their citizens’ access to information .
Out of 180 countries, Burundi dropped from 156 to 160 most problematic for press freedom, Egypt dropped from 159 to 161, and Bahrain dropped from 162 to 164.
Additionally, Reporters Without Border’s has reported at least nine journalist have been killed already in 2017. Several were killed in Mexico— here in our own Hemisphere.
It’s hard to believe that people are being thrown in jail or worse, simply because government officials don’t like what they write or publish, but that is what is happening, especially in countries like China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, just to name a few.
The case I come to the floor here today to highlight is that of Huang Qi , who has long been targeted by the Chinese government because of his advocacy for the rights of ordinary citizens, and his coverage of the Chinese government’s violation of those rights.
In November of last year police reportedly burst into his residence and ransacked his home and took him into detention. In December of last year, Chinese prosecutors authorized Huang’s arrest for allegedly “illegally providing state secrets overseas,” a charge that can result in a sentence of life imprisonment.
The Committee to Protect Journalists described his detention as part of “an intensified crackdown on online journalists and bloggers who report on protests and human rights abuses.”
Huang founded the 64 Tianwang human rights website in 1998. The Chinese government has blocked access to 64 Tianwang since 2003, according to Radio Free Asia, because the site covers issues deemed politically sensitive by authorities, such as protests and government corruption.
Authorities previously sentenced Huang to 3 years in prison on November 2009, for “illegal possession of state secrets,” this in connection to his work assisting parents who lost children during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
In addition, Chinese authorities sentenced Huang to 5 years in prison in 2000 for “subversion” for his advocacy on behalf of the families of 1989 Tiananmen protest victims—a solemn anniversary which we will mark next month.
In short, Huang, a veteran activist, is no stranger to the Chinese government’s silencing of dissent. His life’s work is a testament to fearless reporting regardless of what consequences may follow.
While his own government views him as a threat, outside of China Huang’s work is widely praised and recognized.
Reporters Without Borders awarded the 2016 Press Freedom Award to his website. His case has been championed by Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and others, including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which I am proud to Chair.
His case is featured in the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database which presently contains more than 1,400 active prisoner records—a staggering, but far from exhaustive, number.
Huang is committed to reporting the facts—facts that describe the daily struggles of Chinese citizens. And for this he has suffered greatly including: reported torture and mistreatment in detention, unjust imprisonment and deprivation of his most basic human rights.
The Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally release him, and the United States should make this case and the cases of many others like him languishing unjustly behind bars in China, or tortured into “confessing” to “crimes” they did not commit, priorities- we should make these priorities in our bilateral engagement with Beijing.
It is this second point…the torture and mistreatment of rights defenders, which brings to mind another troubling case—that of prominent human rights lawyer Xie Yang. His wife, who recently arrived in the United States with their two young children, will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee later this week.
Xie has bravely taken on sensitive cases involving land grab victims and advocates for democratic reform. Chinese security agents detained him as part of the “709 Crackdown”—a sweeping, nationwide campaign against Chinese rights lawyers and advocates that started on July 9th , 2015.
The plight of the forty-five year old Mr. Xie, burst on to the international scene in January of 2017 when his attorneys released transcripts of their meetings with him.
The transcripts recount the threats of his inquisitors. They said, “We’ll torture you to death just like an ant.” Another warned, “I’m going to torment you until you go insane.”
He told his lawyers, “I wanted to end their interrogation of me as quickly as I could, even if it meant death…Later, I wrote down whatever they wanted.” As if foreshadowing the fate that awaited him, he had earlier written a letter in detention in which he cautioned, “If one day in the future I admit guilt…that will not be a true expression of my thoughts.”
Fast-forward to last week.
He was charged with “inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order” plead guilty in a recorded video released by the court and widely reported in major media outlets, he said, “I want to take this opportunity to express to other rights lawyers my view now that we should give up using contact with foreign media and independent media to hype sensitive news events, attack judicial institutions and smear the image of the nation's party organs while handling cases…”
He continued in that same, coerced statement, “Everyone should take me as a warning to certainly stay within the framework of the law, and avoid being exploited by Western anti-China forces.”
And Yet, despite these “warnings” and the Chinese government’s unyielding assault on human rights, there are still men and women committed to reporting on the government’s abuses and steadfast in defending the powerless and marginalized. Their courage is an inspiration and it must summon our solidarity.
I look forward to the day when the Chinese government upholds rather than tramples the rights of its own citizens, abides by the rule of law at home and respects the international rules-based system globally. However, that day has not yet arrived.
And until it does, we must signal to the Chinese people that whatever our broader diplomatic and strategic aims may be as it relates to North Korea or any other issue, America is under no illusions about the iron-fisted leadership of President Xi and his utter disregard for the rights and dignity of his own people.
As President Trump continues fulfilling his duty and appointing individuals to key positions, I will keep raising these issues with each and every relevant nominee that I meet with both privately, as I did with Governor Branstad, and publicly, as I did during his confirmation hearing.
It is critical that the United States keep human rights for all people as a core pillar of our foreign policy.