International Law

Lawyer Helps Free Ex-Classmate

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A lawyer from DLA Piper in Washington, D.C., has helped free a former Harvard classmate from a Chinese prison.

Jared Genser works on behalf of imprisoned dissidents through a boutique law firm he founded called Freedom Now, American Lawyer reports. Thanks in large part to his efforts, the man who inspired Genser to become a lawyer returned to the United States on Saturday.

Ten years ago, Yang Jianli and Genser were students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. They helped lead 5,000 protesters who objected to a visit by Chinese president Jiang Zemin. Genser says it was Yang who helped inspire him to become a lawyer and form Freedom Now in 2001.

Soon after Genser formed the public-interest firm, Yang returned to China, his home country, to investigate rural labor unrest. He was arrested for using a false passport to enter the country and later charged with espionage.

During the five years Yang remained in prison, Genser worked to secure his release with a letter-writing campaign, congressional resolutions, protests, and a favorable opinion from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

John Kamm, president of the Chinese detainee rights group, Dui Hua, told American Lawyer that Yang would have served at least double the sentence without Freedom Now’s help. “Anyone else would have gotten at least 10 years and wouldn’t have gotten such good treatment,” he said. “No question, [Freedom Now’s] campaigns help save lives.”

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