Jia Lingmin Named 2016 Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial AwardComments Off on Jia Lingmin Named 2016 Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award
(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders – March 14, 2016) – Imprisoned human rights defender Jia Lingmin (贾灵敏) is the winner of the second Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders for her contribution to the promotion of human rights at the grassroots level in China. Three mainland Chinese NGOs—Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch (民生观察), Human Rights Campaign in China (权利运动), and Rights Defense Network (维权网), which launched the award in 2015 to honor the memory of late activist Cao Shunli (曹顺利)—announced their selection on the second anniversary of Ms. Cao’s death in detention.
Cao Shunli died on March 14, 2014, after being held in detention for five months and denied adequate medical treatment. Police seized her on September 14, 2013, as she was boarding a flight to Geneva, where she was to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an international human rights training. Ms. Cao had worked tirelessly since 2008 to push Chinese authorities, without success, to allow civil society participation in drafting China’s National Human Rights Action Plans and its state reports for China’s 1st and 2nd Universal Periodic Review at the UN HRC; and she faced numerous reprisals as the consequence of her leading role in such efforts.
This year’s winner, Jia Lingmin, 51, was a middle school teacher in Henan before she became an activist following years of fighting for justice as a victim of forced demolition. While petitioning over her personal grievances, Ms. Jia soon learnt to use the country’s law in seeking redress and began teaching other victims to fight for their rights through China’s existing legal system. Prior to her recent detention, Jia had travelled to numerous Chinese towns and villages and gave hundreds of lectures on best practices for defending housing rights, including fighting back against police harassment and the effective use of the law to hold officials accountable. As China’s construction boom in the past decades has enriched local governments through profitable land grabs at the expense of the housing and land rights of millions of Chinese citizens, Jia’s growing reputation from her efforts to teach the law as a defense weapon for victims of forced eviction irritated the government. She was frequently targeted by police harassment, physical assaults, and illegal detention.
Jia Lingmin was not deterred. She took her campaign to a political level in 2012, as she tried to run in a local People’s Congress election in Henan as an independent candidate. Her candidacy faced obstacles from local officials, like many other independent candidates in such elections in China, and she was harassed and threatened.
In May 2014, police took Jia into custody while she was filing a police report over an incident of forced demolition in Zhengzhou. In November 2015, a court in Henan Province sentenced her to four-years imprisonment for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Her detention has been marred by the denial of her due process rights, including being held incommunicado for periods of time, being denied legal counsel, and being held in unreasonably long pre-trial detention; a total of 18-months before sentencing. Her trial hearings in April and June 2015 were tarnished by numerous procedural violations. Several UN human rights experts have expressed concern to the Chinese government over the violation of Jia Lingmin’s right to fair trial.
Jia Lingmin’s dedication to improving human rights on the ground through empowering housing rights victims with the law has made her a true inspiration. As she said through her lawyer after sentencing: “I have not broken the law, even if you lock me up; inside or outside of prison, I will persist in spreading knowledge of the law, and am willing to make the personal sacrifice to raise awareness of the law in more citizens.”
The impact of Jia’s work is acutely felt in her community in the city of Zhengzhou. A Henan-based activist told CHRD, “Thinking about her, my eyes tear up. I can’t help but figure that, if teacher Jia wasn’t in prison, forced demolitions in Zhengzhou wouldn’t have been so rampant today.”
Fellow rights activists all over the country have found inspiration from Jia’s work, as one activist remarked, “Many human rights activists all over the country—from Henan to Hunan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Beijing—have learnt about the law and how to use the legal system to hold officials accountable for rights abuses, thanks to the empowering work of teacher Jia.”
The Cao Shunli Memorial Award acknowledges the efforts of human rights defenders in China who have demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting human rights, typically in the face of great personal risk. The award honors those who continue Cao’s work and recipients engage in human rights initiatives focusing on protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, including activities that push for civil society participation in international human rights mechanisms and efforts to monitor the Chinese government’s implementation of its human rights obligations. The award includes prize money to fund ongoing initiatives or to otherwise assist the recipient.
The award is announced annually on March 14, the anniversary of Cao’s death, and on a date some Chinese activists have designated “Human Rights Defenders Day.” In 2015, disability and labor rights activist Zhou Weilin (周维林) became the first recipient of the award.
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Watch on YouTube Jia Lingmin providing training on the use of law to fight for housing rights protection and to hold government officials accountable.
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