Chinese human rights lawyer, Teng Biao (Shizhao/Wikimedia)
Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao (Shizhao/Wikimedia)

A U.S. congressional committee that monitors human rights in China has asked the president of the American Bar Association to explain why the ABA’s book publishing unit reversed plans to publish a book by Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao.

In a letter on Tuesday, the leaders of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China asked ABA president Paulette Brown and executive director Jack Rives for information to determine whether the ABA canceled the book project in order to protect the ABA’s interests in China.

“As reported, the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of Teng Biao’s book are deeply concerning and not worthy of the values and principles for which the ABA stands,” New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in the letter. They also questioned the ABA’s response to a Chinese government crackdown on human rights lawyers last summer. Some human rights advocates have criticized the ABA’s reaction to China’s actions as too timid.

The letter appeared to be prompted by an April 15 article in Foreign Policy about the book dispute. Foreign Policy revealed the details of an email that an ABA employee sent Teng in January 2015 rescinding the offer to publish his book. “Apparently, there is concern that we run the risk of upsetting the Chinese government by publishing your book,” the unidentified employee wrote. The email noted, “We have ABA commissions working in China [and] there is fear that we would put them and their work at risk.”

Through its Rule of Law Initiative, the ABA partners with local groups around the world, including in China, to promote basic legal rights.

According to Foreign Policy, Teng proposed to write a book that would reveal China’s politics and society through “the shocking stories” of Chinese human rights lawyers, including his own experience. The ABA agreed in December 2014 to publish the book.

The ABA, which is preparing a response to the commission’s request, declined to comment. Brown, a partner at Locke Lord, became ABA president last August, and wasn’t the group’s leader when the book contract was canceled. At that time William Hubbard of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough held that position. He was not immediately available to comment.

The Foreign Policy article stated that ABA executive Robert Rupp, who oversees the organization’s publishing unit, claimed that the decision not to publish the book “was made for purely economic reasons, based on market research and sales forecasting.” Rupp apologized that “the reasons resulting in the decision were miscommunicated to Mr. Teng.”

Teng is currently an associate at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, according to the Carr Center website. Teng moved to the United States in 2014 and was previously a fellow at Harvard Law School. Attempts to contact him through Harvard were not successful.

Congress created the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in 2000 to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China. It consists of senators, House members, and administration officials appointed by the president.

In its letter to Brown and Rives, the committee asked for answers to several questions, including whether the Chinese government indicated that ABA projects in China would be jeopardized if it published this book. The commission also asked if such risk calculations routinely enter into ABA publishing decisions.

The letter asked the ABA officials to provide answers in writing or submit testimony for an upcoming hearing that will examine the Chinese government’s efforts to silence and punish its critics.

A U.S. congressional committee that monitors human rights in China has asked the president of the American Bar Association to explain why the ABA’s book publishing unit reversed plans to publish a book by Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao.

In a letter on Tuesday, the leaders of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China asked ABA president Paulette Brown and executive director Jack Rives for information to determine whether the ABA canceled the book project in order to protect the ABA’s interests in China.

“As reported, the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of Teng Biao’s book are deeply concerning and not worthy of the values and principles for which the ABA stands,” New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in the letter. They also questioned the ABA’s response to a Chinese government crackdown on human rights lawyers last summer. Some human rights advocates have criticized the ABA’s reaction to China’s actions as too timid.

The letter appeared to be prompted by an April 15 article in Foreign Policy about the book dispute. Foreign Policy revealed the details of an email that an ABA employee sent Teng in January 2015 rescinding the offer to publish his book. “Apparently, there is concern that we run the risk of upsetting the Chinese government by publishing your book,” the unidentified employee wrote. The email noted, “We have ABA commissions working in China [and] there is fear that we would put them and their work at risk.”

Through its Rule of Law Initiative, the ABA partners with local groups around the world, including in China, to promote basic legal rights.

According to Foreign Policy, Teng proposed to write a book that would reveal China’s politics and society through “the shocking stories” of Chinese human rights lawyers, including his own experience. The ABA agreed in December 2014 to publish the book.

The ABA, which is preparing a response to the commission’s request, declined to comment. Brown, a partner at Locke Lord , became ABA president last August, and wasn’t the group’s leader when the book contract was canceled. At that time William Hubbard of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough held that position. He was not immediately available to comment.

The Foreign Policy article stated that ABA executive Robert Rupp, who oversees the organization’s publishing unit, claimed that the decision not to publish the book “was made for purely economic reasons, based on market research and sales forecasting.” Rupp apologized that “the reasons resulting in the decision were miscommunicated to Mr. Teng.”

Teng is currently an associate at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, according to the Carr Center website. Teng moved to the United States in 2014 and was previously a fellow at Harvard Law School . Attempts to contact him through Harvard were not successful.

Congress created the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in 2000 to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China. It consists of senators, House members, and administration officials appointed by the president.

In its letter to Brown and Rives, the committee asked for answers to several questions, including whether the Chinese government indicated that ABA projects in China would be jeopardized if it published this book. The commission also asked if such risk calculations routinely enter into ABA publishing decisions.

The letter asked the ABA officials to provide answers in writing or submit testimony for an upcoming hearing that will examine the Chinese government’s efforts to silence and punish its critics.