This week, while people around the world observed Human Rights Day and the fifth anniversary of imprisoned critic Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, the Chinese government opted for some human rights gestures of its own. It effectively rejected the findings of a United Nations review of its torture record, shrilly insisted that the Dalai Lama supports the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and tried to prevent discussion of North Korea’s grotesque human rights record at the UN Security Council.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang talks to media in Beijing in this July 20, 2012 picture.

© 2012 Reuters

It also decided to announce the trial date for Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's best-known human rights lawyers, now set for December 14. His odyssey through the political machinery masquerading as China’s legal system is disturbingly typical of those who try to use peaceful means to challenge injustices by the state. He’s been detained for 19 months, charged with “picking quarrels and stirring up troubles” and “inciting ethnic hatred” for comments he made on social media – comments wholly protected under international law – and been denied adequate medical treatment. He faces up to 8 years in prison.

Many diplomats in Beijing representing the 36 countries with a stated interest in improving human rights are rightly pessimistic about the outcome of Pu's, and other similar cases. Those diplomats who have fought hard – with the Chinese government and/or within their own governments for stronger support for human rights – wonder what can make a difference in this case. It is a reasonable question, particularly in light of the all-out assault against human rights and the rule of law by President Xi Jinping and his allies.

But there is at least one simple, evocative step these three dozen ambassadors and other concerned diplomats can take to show their displeasure at Pu’s treatment: gather together at 9 o’clock Monday morning at the Beijing Municipal No. 2 Intermediate courthouse. It is unlikely they will be allowed into the courtroom, and it is possible authorities might even try to block access to the building entirely. 

But at a trial that will be closely watched across the country and the globe, what better way to demonstrate high-level concern and solidarity than by appearing together? Not only would this significantly raise the price for Beijing as it calculates just how long to lock Pu away, it would also send a powerful message of support to those facing similar reprisals as Pu – people who work on issues these governments say they support, like independent media, environmental protection, anti-corruption, women’s rights, and legal reform.

It would be an extraordinary gesture of solidarity and support for human rights to see these ambassadors at the courthouse:  

  1. Austria: Irene Giner-Reichl
  2. Australia: Justin Hayhurst (interim)
  3. Belgium: Michel Malherbe
  4. Bulgaria: Plamen Shukyurliev
  5. Canada: Guy St. Jacques
  6. Croatia: Nebojša Koharović
  7. Cyprus: Agis Loizou
  8. Czech Republic: Libor Secka
  9. Denmark: A. Carsten Damsgaard
  10. Estonia: Toomas Lukk
  11. European Union: Hans-Dietmar Schweisgut
  12. Finland: Marja Rislakki
  13. France: Maurice Gourdault-Montagne
  14. Germany: Michael Clauss
  15. Greece: Vassilios Kostis
  16. Hungary: Cecilia Szilas  
  17. Ireland: Paul Kavanagh
  18. Italy: Ettore Francesco Sequi 
  19. Japan: Masato Kitera
  20. Latvia: Ingrida Levrence
  21. Lithuania: Ina Marciulionyte
  22. Luxembourg: Paul Steinmetz
  23. Malta: Bernard Hamilton (interim)
  24. Netherlands: André Driessen (interim)
  25. New Zealand: John McKinnon
  26. Norway: Svein Sæther
  27. Poland: Miroslaw Gajewski
  28. Portugal: Jorge Torres-Pereira
  29. Romania: Doru Romulus Costea
  30. Slovakia: Zigmund Bertok
  31. Slovenia: Marija Adanja
  32. Spain: Manuel Valencia
  33. Sweden: Lars Freden
  34. Switzerland: Jean-Jacques de Dardel
  35. United Kingdom: Barbara Woodward
  36. United States: Max Baucus