The U.S. government has honored a pioneering Chinese rights lawyer as an "International Woman of Courage," as authorities continue to detain lawyers and rights activists back in China.
Public interest lawyer Guo Jianmei, who directs the Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counseling and Service Center, received the award from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington to mark International Women's Day.
"Each of these women [has] reached down deep and done what was necessary," Clinton, speaking at the award ceremony, said of Guo and others receiving the award.
"And I often wonder how many of us, including myself, under those circumstances, could have done the same."
"Their courage, their compassion, their commitment, their quiet moral authority has come from putting the well-being of others before their own," she said.
Chinese authorities frequently harass, detain, and imprison lawyers who carry out legal advocacy work for the least privileged in society.
Among them are prominent Beijing rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, blind Shandong legal advocate Chen Guangcheng, and Guangzhou-based lawyer Guo Feixiong, all of whom fell foul of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in defending cases.
This week, the wife of another Guangzhou-based lawyer, Tang Jingling, said she had been informed that her husband had been detained on charges of "incitement to subvert state power."
She said his detention had begun on March 1 at a correctional facility in Panyu city, Guangdong province.
Fellow Guangzhou rights activist Sun Desheng was also formally detained this week on subversion charges by state security police, who accused him of "holding a meeting."
"The state security police said that Sun Desheng has already been formally detained, because he had a meal [with others], and they said he was holding a meeting," said an associate who declined to be named.
Guo's legal center had its official ties to prestigious Beijing University cut last year, denying it the political protection and official approval implicit in its link to the institution.
Work will continue
Amid a worsening political climate for China's nongovernment and civic groups, women's rights lawyer Guo Jianmei said she would continue the work of the center nonetheless.
In an interview last year, Guo said she first discovered her calling in civil rights work when she attended the nongovernment meetings linked to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Huairou, a dusty suburb to the north of the capital.
"There were tens of thousands of delegates from all over the world, of different skin color, speaking different languages, wearing different clothes, from different races and faiths," Guo recalled.
"But they were all talking about one thing, and that was what could be done to protect the rights of women, who make up half the world's population."
She said the spirit of the NGO conference carried her through her work of the next 15 years, representing China's most disadvantaged women in their attempt to win redress for cases as diverse as sexual harassment, rape, forced abortion, eviction, and the sale of their land.
Staffed by law department faculty, staff, graduate students, and lawyers, the Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center provides free legal advice to thousands of women every year through its telephone hotline.
It also advises legal research groups on women’s rights and has been increasingly active in bringing public interest lawsuits related to discrimination and domestic violence.
Among the other recipients of the award this year were Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva; Maria Bashir, Prosecutor General of Afghanistan's Herat province; and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.
Reported by Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese service and by Ding Xiao for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.