The Wrong Direction

20 July 2009

The N.Y. Times reports today that hundreds of ethnic Uighurs in Urumchi (in the Xinjiang Province of China) have been arrested and held for days now without being allowed to communicate with lawyers or family.  For full text click here

The Times reports:  "In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding the unrest, the Bureau for Legal Affairs in Beijing has warned lawyers to stay away from cases in Xinjiang, suggesting that those who assist anyone accused of rioting pose a threat to national unity. Officials on Friday shut down the Open Constitution Initiative, a consortium of volunteer lawyers who have taken on cases that challenge the government and other powerful interests. Separately, the bureau canceled the licenses of 53 lawyers, some of whom had offered to help Tibetans accused of rioting last year in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet."*

In my last entry in this blog just a few weeks ago, I suggested that the mob violence results from frustration over lack of legal means for redress.  When people cannot rely on the justice system for justice, then they feel they must take matters into their own hands.  On the other hand, if people knew they could rely on the legal system for justice, they would do so. 

Sadly, this action by the Chinese government in favor of repression is a step in the opposite direction.  It reminds me of the quotation from Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers."  The surest way to tyranny is to eliminate those sentinels in society who guard against it.  Rather than strengthen the legal system so that citizens can rely on it for redress (and hence reducing the actual need for "self help justice"), it appears the Chinese government simply intends to snuff out all outward signs of unrest. 

That’s like putting a lid on a pressure cooker, instead of turning off the heat.  Repressing evidence of unrest does nothing to address the underlying causes.  Instead, it foments more discontent and future riots, resulting eventually in the need for even more repression and a government that is so weak it cannot stand without military intervention.     


*Facebook continues to be blocked, as well. 


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