There are not many CSOs in China with good luck in public interest suits. The environmental area is one where there is great success, but other types of suits frequently miss their mark because courts often refuse to hear the cases. Recent news, however, suggests that there has been at least one breakthrough, although the CSO that brought the suit later faced significant repression.
Yu Fangqiang, a very brave leader in the public interest world, heads up Justice for All, a Nanjing-based organization, which is an offshoot of the disability rights CSO Beijing Yirenping Center. Yu is a China-educated lawyer, who has been a visiting student at the Civil Society Studies Centre of Hong Kong University, the Long Yingtai Foundation in Taiwan, and Fordham University School of Law in the US.
The good news
In March, Justice for All won a singular victory. It received a summary judgment from the Gusu District Court of Jiangsu Province, in which the court ruled that the defendant, Suzhou Motel 168 Hotel Management, LLC owed ¥21,750 ($3,543.29) in damages as well as the ¥5,000 ($814.55) deposit as compensation to the CSO. As of now, the ruling is the first and only one of its kind in favour of a CSO in a case where a motel/hotel has breached contract due to a police policy of ‘maintaining stability’. Although this is a frequent occurrence for controversial CSOs, there has never been a successful case in the past.
You can read more (in Mandarin Chinese) in this report from Caixin Online, ‘Ruling against hotel for “maintaining stability”, which caused breach of contract’.
The bad news
Working recently in Henan, Yu was forcibly taken into custody by persons claiming to be from the Henan police. They seized his two mobile phones, one computer, one ID card and his credit cards. After being asked to ‘drink tea’ with them (‘drinking tea’ is a euphemism for being questioned by security personnel), Yu was released and went on his way to an 11am meeting. His property continued to be withheld, and he was told he could pick it up from the police department. He did not follow up, of course, fearing more violence.
Speculation by Justice for All and Beijing Yirenping suggests that the invitation to ‘drink tea’ may have been due to the recent involvement of Yu Fangqiang’s organization in the petition of 10,000 signatures for tap water information disclosure, the lawsuit against Motel 168 over breach of contract for ‘maintaining stability’, and/or the disabled youth workshop initiatives. In addition to the successful lawsuit, the two initiatives are described as follows:
10,000 signatures for tap water information disclosure petition
On 22 March, World Water Day, Justice For All created an initiative to obtain 10,000 signatures for a petition for the government to disclose information on tap water. When 10,000 or more signatures have been added to the petition it will send it as a joint letter to the Health Commission, the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of/ Environmental Protection. Polluted drinking water is a significant problem in China.
Disabled Youth Workshop
Justice For All hosted a youth workshop on eliminating disability discrimination in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province from 12-14 April, in which over 40 disabled youth participated along with CSO members from Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Anhui and other places. Click here to see a description of a series of 2011/2012 anti-discrimination activities in China.
Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is Research Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. She splits her time between Beijing and the Washington, DC area.