- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Call it a new form of civil disobedience in China — the lawsuit.

China’s slow shift to the rule of law has unintentionally given dissidents a place to voice their grievances.

As its trade and contact with other countries have increased since the 1990s, China has been formalizing its legal system — and even has incorporated laws dealing with human rights and private property into the Communist Party’s constitution.

Dissidents in China have picked up on the implications of these legal changes and now bring their cases to court in an attempt to make the government abide by its own laws.

“People are more willing to see how far they can push these laws,” said Jim Geheran, director of Initiatives for China, a grass-roots movement urging a peaceful transition to democracy in China.

Dissidents said they hope their examples will educate the Chinese people in how to stand up for their own rights, and help them understand the law.

“They may scold and shout at me, but I will still confront [the officials] so I can let everyone know,” Xu Xiaoqi, a 56-year-old newspaper editor, said during an interview via Skype. She is appealing her forced eviction from her home in Beijing.

Yang Jianli, founder and president of Initiatives for China, cited the trial of Sun Zhigang in Guangzhou as a turning point for the movement — and one of only two cases dissidents have won against the state.

In 2003, three Chinese lawyers challenged a detention policy that allowed police to detain people as vagrants for not carrying identification. Mr. Sun, 27, was sent to a detention center under the policy and was beaten to death by inmates.

Using legal arguments from the Chinese Constitution and citizens rights laws, the lawyers managed to have the detention policy overturned — the first human rights victory since Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Yang said.

He said the movement has been largely successful as an educational effort: Awareness of rights has risen dramatically over the past few years, and dissidents are becoming more vocal.

“We want to mobilize the people to stand up and give them the power,” Mr. Yang said.

It has not been an easy fight for political dissidents. China has no independent judiciary, and all courts answer to the communist government.

China has laws, but the government will either ignore or work around them,” Mr. Geheran said, drawing parallels between China’s situation and America’s civil rights movement.

However, Levi Browde, executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York, said the Chinese court cases are mere show trials, citing examples of Falun Gong practitioners whose attorneys were not even allowed into the courtroom to defend them. The Chinese government considers Falun Gong a threat to social stability and has banned its practice.

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