American Bar Association offices in Washington, D.C.
American Bar Association offices in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mike Scarcella/NLJ)

Responding to an inquiry from a U.S. congressional committee, the American Bar Association has insisted that it did not rescind an offer to publish a book by Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao to curry favor with the Chinese government.

In a letter sent Monday to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, ABA president Paulette Brown and executive director Jack Rives stated “unequivocally” that canceling the book deal was purely a business decision, made after a distributor projected that only 10 percent of Teng’s books would be sold.

Last week lawmakers on the commission wrote to Brown and Rives, asking them to explain whether the ABA scuttled the book project to protect the ABA’s interests in China.

The commission’s letter followed an April 15 article in Foreign Policy, which 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 ABA 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.”

According to Foreign Policy, Teng, pictured right, 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.

“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 stated in their 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 mild.

In their letter, the ABA leaders described the email to Teng as an “unfortunate miscommunication.” The actions of the employee who offered to publish the book and then withdrew the offer “were misguided as well as erroneous,” they said.

The ABA also stated that it has recently taken several important steps in support of human rights in China. This month Brown called on the Chinese government to protect human rights under its own law and international law, and the ABA has worked with Chinese nongovernmental organizations, public interest lawyers, courts and others to promote the rule of law and the protection of basic rights for all citizens, the letter said.

Teng, who moved to the United States in 2014, is 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 was previously a fellow at Harvard Law School. Attempts to contact him through Harvard were not successful.

Responding to an inquiry from a U.S. congressional committee, the American Bar Association has insisted that it did not rescind an offer to publish a book by Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao to curry favor with the Chinese government.

In a letter sent Monday to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, ABA president Paulette Brown and executive director Jack Rives stated “unequivocally” that canceling the book deal was purely a business decision, made after a distributor projected that only 10 percent of Teng’s books would be sold.

Last week lawmakers on the commission wrote to Brown and Rives, asking them to explain whether the ABA scuttled the book project to protect the ABA’s interests in China.

The commission’s letter followed an April 15 article in Foreign Policy, which 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 ABA 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.”

According to Foreign Policy, Teng, pictured right, 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.

“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 stated in their 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 mild.

In their letter, the ABA leaders described the email to Teng as an “unfortunate miscommunication.” The actions of the employee who offered to publish the book and then withdrew the offer “were misguided as well as erroneous,” they said.

The ABA also stated that it has recently taken several important steps in support of human rights in China. This month Brown called on the Chinese government to protect human rights under its own law and international law, and the ABA has worked with Chinese nongovernmental organizations, public interest lawyers, courts and others to promote the rule of law and the protection of basic rights for all citizens, the letter said.

Teng, who moved to the United States in 2014, is 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 was previously a fellow at Harvard Law School . Attempts to contact him through Harvard were not successful.