17 Mar 2022

In memory of lawyer Li Jinjin, who was murdered

New York immigration lawyer Li Jinjin was stabbed to death by his client on 14 March. Mr Li dedicated himself to the Chinese democracy movement -- he took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, for which he was jailed for two years. After he came to the US to study law in the 1990s, he continued his pro-democracy activism, including helping Chinese fugitives who were caught up in China's use of the Interpol red notices system to pursue political critics. 

Mr Li made a significant contribution to one of our research projects on extraterritorial repression by Beijing, the results of which were published in our groundbreaking report Involuntary Returns: China’s covert operation to force ‘fugitives’ overseas back home.

We couldn't do much of our research and advocacy work without people like Mr. Li, who share their knowledge, experience and offer advice to help expose human rights violations. He will be very sadly missed. All of us at Safeguard Defenders would like to express our sincere gratitude for his help and offer condolences to his family. 

This January, we published Involuntary Returns, revealing the CCP's coercive practice of chasing so-called "fugitives" overseas. Mr. Li generously shared his experiences working on such cases with us back in September 2021. He explained Chinese legal documents and offered to connect us with former clients. Without his knowledge that report would be far less comprehensive.

Mr Li even kindly gave us important background information. The report covered three key ways that Chinese authorities use to get overseas Chinese to return -- threatening their relatives back in China, sending agents overseas to harass targets, and direct kidnapping. Mr Li suggested a fourth practice -- the mobilizing of overseas Chinese associations and other organizations with close connections to Chinese Embassies to pressure its targets. That advice not only gave us a direction for our future research but also demonstrated his passion for human rights work.

Mr Li was born in 1955 in Hubei province. During the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, he was studying for a Doctor of Law at Beijing University. He acted as a legal advisor to Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation, a union playing a key role in the demonstrations. After the 4 June Massacre, Mr Li was jailed for two years. Two years after being freed in 1991, he left China, starting as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York. Mr Li received a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1998. Afterwards, he moved to New York to start his law career, where he helped many Chinese victims of CCP persecution. As an immigration lawyer, Mr Li was renowned for taking on asylum cases, including those who had been targeted by Interpol Red Notices filed by Beijing. He was also active in pro-democracy work, joining organizations such as the China Democracy Party, an organization advocating for China's democratization. 

Teng Biao, a well-known Chinese human rights activist and lawyer in exile, told Safeguard Defenders that Mr. Li made a significant contribution to the 1989 democracy movement and paid the price with the loss of his freedom. Teng added that Mr Li's activism earned him the respect of the Chinese overseas community. "I'd like to pay my respects to him as well," Teng added.