China: Jiang Tianyong receives IBA Human Rights Award 2022
Pictured left to right: Wajiha Ahmed, Butter Caldwell and Co Solicitors; Jin Bianling, wife of Jiang Tianyong; Alexa Koenig, Human Rights Center UC Berkeley; Yaxue Cao, China Change
Lawyer Jiang Tianyong has received the 2022 International Bar Association (IBA) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights for his extraordinary dedication to defending human rights in the People’s Republic of China. Over the span of a decade, he has represented Chinese dissidents and activists, victims of HIV contamination through blood transfusions, Falun Gong religious practitioners, victims of illegal land misappropriation, and those facing discrimination due to health status, gender or age.
As Mr Jiang is under house arrest in China, he was unable to travel to the IBA Annual Conference 2022 in Miami, Florida, United States to receive the award in person. He gave an acceptance speech to delegates via a pre-recorded video.
Mr Jiang's wife, Jin Bianling, resident in the US, collected the award on his behalf during the IBA Human Rights Law Committee and Section on Public and Professional Interest (SPPI) breakfast on Thursday 3 November.
Mr Jiang commented: ‘Over the past 10 years, human rights in China have further deteriorated; more human rights lawyers face arrest, but they have persevered like other human rights defenders. As far as I know, none of my human rights lawyer friends have given up because of persecution. All of us understand that freedom is never free. This award is a recognition of myself and my colleagues in China. I thank the International Bar Association, thank our international colleagues for your support. On this day, human rights lawyers and human rights defenders around the world stand in solidarity with Chinese human rights lawyers.
He continued: ‘I believe that defending human rights is part of a lawyer’s duty, ordinary and natural. But in China, when a lawyer takes the law seriously, defends clients according to the law, and practices human rights enshrined in the law, he or she is regarded as opposing the Communist Party and subverting the state power. Such lawyers and their families face constant persecution by the state. In my own case, for not giving up on defending human rights, I’ve endured years of harassment, house arrest, disbarment, forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and prison. Even after my release, they’ve continued to limit my freedom of movement, preventing me from traveling, seeing doctors, meeting friends, and barring me from leaving China to reunite with my wife and daughter in America.’
IBA President Sternford Moyo said: ‘On behalf of the International Bar Association, I congratulate Jiang Tianyong on his work defending the human rights of his fellow citizens. I hope that he will continue to inspire others in the global legal community to create remain steadfast in the promotion and protection of these rights and the rule of law.’
Each year, the IBA presents an award to an outstanding lawyer in the world of human rights law. The award is bestowed upon a legal practitioner who is deemed to have made a remarkable contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of any group of people, particularly with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.
Described by his nominator as having a ‘fearless commitment’ to defending human rights in China, Mr Jiang has dedicated his career to helping others. Arriving in Beijing in late 2004 to practice law, one of the first cases he took on involved the blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who had been targeted by the authorities for exposing the brutal practices of birth control in the countryside of Shangdong province. Alongside a group of public interest lawyers, Mr Jiang represented nearly twenty victims of violent birth control in a case against the Linyi birth control department and government. When Mr Guancheng was placed under house arrest in 2010, Mr Jiang led the rescue effort to secure his freedom.
In 2008, Mr Jiang started volunteering for the anti-discrimination charity Beijing Yirenping Center, providing legal assistance to victims of discrimination due to their health status, gender, residency status and age. Together with several pro bono attorneys, he collaborated with public interest organisations, legal scholars, doctors and journalists to push the government to come up with a package to address the compensation and protection of people infected with AIDS through blood sales and transfusions. In the same year, Mr Jiang won the first-ever Hepatitis B discrimination case in China.
Mr Jiang’s licence to practice law was suspended in 2009 for taking on too many ‘sensitive’ cases. Despite this, he continued to represent Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, house churches and victims of land misappropriation in court as a citizen advocate. In 2011, as part of the so-called Jasmine Crackdown, he was disappeared by the Chinese government and subjected to beatings, humiliation, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture. In a subsequent interview he spoke out against his treatment, telling artist Ai Weiwei: ‘I can’t bring myself to contemplate it. It’s so frightening and painful. But what did I do wrong? Being punished for doing what I did - this reality has to change.’ In 2016, Mr Jiang was detained again, made to confess on television, and sentenced to two years in prison. Following his release, from February 2019 to March 2022 he was illegally placed under house arrest and today remains under close surveillance. He has been barred from leaving China to reunite with his wife and daughter, who are residing in the United States after fleeing the country.
Alexa Koenig, JD and Melinda Taylor, Co-Chairs of the IBA Human Rights Law Committee and members of the award judging panel, commented: ‘Our panel is honoured to select Jiang Tianyong as this year's award winner in recognition of the pathbreaking efforts he's undertaken to seek justice for especially difficult cases, and despite the extraordinary suffering that he and his family have endured as a result. His perseverance and deep adherence to and respect for the law despite the personal consequences is stunning.’
Yaxue Cao, Founder and Editor of human rights organisation China Change, nominated Mr Jiang for the award. She said: ‘Lawyer Jiang Tianyong has devoted two decades to defending human rights through his practice. Despite harassment, torture and imprisonment, he has never stopped his work as an attorney, organiser, advisor and communicator. Jiang represents the best of China at a time when standing up for basic human rights and dignity is considered "subversion of state power". He knows that things must change and has been one of his country's most conscientious activists fighting for the rule of law.’
The joint 2021 awardees, Belarusian lawyers Ludmila Kazak and Maksim Znak, were also e acknowledged during this year’s ceremony as COVID-19 restrictions meant that the 2021 ceremony was held online.
Notes to the Editor
- Information about the IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Legal Practitioner to Human Rights is available at: www.ibanet.org/Committees/Divisions/Legal_Practice/IBA-Human-Rights-Award.aspx
- The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
- Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
- The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
- Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:
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