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U.S. Citizen Detained in Beijing for Attempt to Deliver Letter to Obama

November 17, 2009

On the afternoon of November 17, 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama was scheduled to visit the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, a U.S. citizen, Julie Harms, who was waiting outside the embassy in order to deliver an appeal letter for the President, was picked up by Chinese police officers. According to Ms. Harms, she was then detained and interrogated for two-and-a-half hours at the Maizidian Police Substation in Chaoyang District, Beijing.

Julie Harms, a graduate of Harvard, told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that over many months she had petitioned unsuccessfully to central authorities – including the National People’s Congress, Ministry of Public Security, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and State Bureau for Letters and Calls (the state agency responsible for receiving petitions) – on behalf of her fiancé, Liu Shiliang (刘士亮).  Liu was detained on June 17, 2009, by the Wuhe County Public Security Department in Bengbu, Anhui, and was tried at the Wuhe County People’s Court on September 14, 2009, for “trespassing” (非法侵入他人住宅), a charge brought by a neighbor with whom Liu had a dispute in 2007. (The neighbor is now serving a five-year prison term after being convicted of beating and seriously injuring Liu.) The court, required under the Criminal Procedure Law to issue a ruling within one month after accepting a case, has yet to render a decision on Liu Shiliang’s case.

Harms first met Liu in 1999 in Hefei, Anhui, during her travels. Liu was then working as a security guard at a local post office. They were engaged in 2007, but have delayed their wedding because of the legal problems involving Liu’s neighbor.

“Sadly, Ms. Harms’ experience is a microcosm of the ordeal that hundreds of thousands of Chinese petitioners go through when they try to appeal to higher authorities for justice,” said Sharon Hom, HRIC executive director. “In this case, the Chinese authorities prevented a U.S. citizen from delivering a petition to her own president. This incident should be a cautionary tale for the U.S. government and the international community about the true face of China’s progress and the limits of redress for Chinese citizens.”

Ms. Harms has provided to HRIC the following text of her letter to President Obama.


Letter to U.S. President Barack Obama
Julie Harms
November 17, 2009, Beijing

Dear Mr. President,

As an American citizen, and a frequent visitor to China, with strong connections to both countries, I fully support your effort to engage China as a strategic partner and ally.
I hope that you will take this historic opportunity of direct, face-to-face dialogue with Chinese leadership to strongly urge the Chinese government to continue its progress towards universal rights for the Chinese people.

Successful, sustainable development is not merely economic in nature. And in recent years, the Chinese government has initiated many legal and social reforms. While expressing your support for these changes, please call upon the Chinese government to prioritize the wider, more standardized implementation of these reforms already approved and written into national law. Greater rights and legal protection for the Chinese people must come through first ensuring that all levels of government, beginning with local villages and counties, comply with the existing laws that had in principle been implemented, to provide for increased government transparency and justice.

My appeal to you, Mr. President, stems from a very personal incident in which my Chinese fiancé, Liu Shiliang (刘士亮), in June 2009 was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing of a private residence (非法侵入他人住宅罪) — unjustly based on a May 2007 incident in which Liu was the victim of a brutal attack from behind, beaten nearly to death while returning to his family home in Anhui Province.

The refusal by the Wuhe County authorities to administer law according to the principle of “equal justice for all” (一律平等) as set forth by the Chinese legal system resulted in Liu’s arrest and imprisonment for the past five months. Despite prevailing health problems that resulted from the original attack, all requests for bail have been denied. Numerous attempts to legally resolve the issue through county, city, provincial and national levels of the public security procuratorate and court, as well as the Party’s political and legislative affairs committees (政法委), to date have not resulted in any resolution of the illegal actions taken by the local authorities.

Therefore, I call upon you, Mr. President, to express to the Chinese leadership these concerns and to once again emphasize the importance of fully implementing China’s existing laws to provide basic legal protection and justice for all Chinese citizens.

Thank you for your kind attention.



Julie Harms