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After June 4, China is Still Fumbling Towards Respect for Rights of All

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
June 2, 2014
South China Morning Post


We are entitled, 25 years later, to ask about the enduring legacy of June 4. Its immediate impact on China's legal system and civil and political rights was, of course, disastrous. For several years, savage repression decimated a system that, only a decade earlier, had begun its post-Cultural Revolution reconstruction.

The mid-1990s, however, spurred by Deng Xiaoping's 1992 "southern tour" and the Communist Party's effort to attract foreign direct investment, marked a return to the cautious but persistent legal progress of the 1980s. This, despite "strike hard" campaigns and other setbacks, seemed to promise greater protection of human rights, not only in theory but also in practice.

The past 20 years have witnessed a continuation of China's legislative progress. But what has not continued, despite attractive constitutional amendments and generally progressive procedural and substantive laws, is the promise of gradually realising the freedoms of expression, association, assembly, demonstration and religion enshrined in China's constitution. Nor, in practice, has the police-prosecutorial-judicial system over which the Communist Party presides protected the criminal justice and litigation rights of those unfortunate enough to become involved in "sensitive" cases, broadly defined.

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