Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

China: Leading Civil Rights Lawyers Face Threats to Licenses

May 28, 2009

Human Right Watch
May 26, 2009

For Immediate Release

China: Leading Civil Rights Lawyers Face Threats to Licenses
Government Should Guarantee Independence of the Legal Profession

(New York, May 26, 2009) - More than 20 of
China’s most prominent civil rights lawyers face
the possible loss of their right to practice law
as an apparent official reprisal for their rights
advocacy efforts, Human Rights Watch said today.

Under Chinese law, lawyers and law firms must get
their licenses to practice renewed annually, a
process sometimes marred by political
considerations. These civil rights lawyers say
that in recent weeks the Beijing judicial
authorities have been trying to pressure their
firms not to endorse their re-licensing
applications. The lawyers say that the firms’
heads have been warned by judicial officials in
meetings and telephone conversations about
possible adverse consequences for their business
if they continue to employ lawyers who take up rights cases.

"Control over the yearly renewal of professional
licenses remains one of the main obstacles to the
independence of China’s legal profession,” said
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at
Human Rights Watch. “Even when law firms that
have been pressured decide to stand by their
lawyers, this kind of interference has a chilling
effect on the legal profession.”

According to an official April 14, 2009, notice
from the Beijing Judicial Bureau detailing the
registration procedures, lawyers must present
their annual applications prior to the end of the
registration period on May 31. Lawyers who fail
to renew their professional licenses are in effect temporarily disbarred.

A number of the lawyers currently targeted have
been involved in some of the most high-profile
efforts to date to litigate on behalf of victims
of human rights abuses and press for greater
accountability from the government. They have
represented families of victims of the melamine
milk-powder scandal, parents of children killed
during the Sichuan earthquake who are pressing
for an investigation into the causes of the
disproportionately high rate of school collapses,
and Tibetans arrested in connection with the
massive crackdown in Tibet. Others have been
involved in representing HIV/AIDS patients,
victims of police abuses, farmers evicted from
their land, and Falungong practitioners.

Over the past few years, Human Rights Watch has
extensively documented abuses of lawyers,
widespread violations of the right of the defense
in legal procedures, and a pattern of
interference and political control in cases
viewed as politically sensitive by the
authorities
(http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/04/27/china-restrictions-lawyers-fuel-unrest
). Although the government vowed to establish new
procedural protections for lawyers in June 2008
when it promulgated revisions to the Law on
Lawyers
(http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/05/28/china-rights-lawyers-face-disbarment-threats
), those efforts have been inadequate. No efforts
have been made to effectively safeguard the
security of lawyers discharging their functions
or to allow the government-controlled All-China
Lawyers Association – the country’s bar association – to play such role.

Human Rights Watch pointed out that instead of
the promised reforms to protect the independence
of lawyers, detention and physical abuses against
lawyers by law enforcement officials have
multiplied. In one such incident on May 13, 2009,
lawyers Zhang Kai and Li Chunfu were arrested and
beaten in police custody in Chongqing after
meeting with the family of a man who had died
while in a re-education-through-labor camp. The
authorities have so far refused to investigate the incident.

"Interference and retaliation against lawyers are
direct attacks on the rule of law," said
Richardson. "Such actions perpetuate injustices,
undermine confidence in legal institutions, and
negate the government’s own commitment to
governing the country according to law.”

Beijing lawyers who have reported concerns over
the renewal of their license include

Li Heping, Cheng Hai, Jiang Tianyong, Li
Xiongbing, Li Chunfu, Wang Yajun, Tang Jitian,
Yang Huimin, Xie Yanyi, Li Dunyong, Wen Haibo,
Liu Wei, Zhang Lihui, Peng Jian, Li Jinglin, Lan
Zhixue, Zhang Kai and Liu Xiaoyuan. Two lawyers
who practice outside of Beijing, Wei Liangyue and
Yang Zaixin, have also reported threats over their licenses.

To read the December 2006 Human Rights Watch
report, "A Great Danger for Lawyers," please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2006/12/11/great-danger-lawyers

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on China, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/china

For more information, please contact:
In Hong Kong, Nicholas Bequelin (English, French,
Mandarin): +852-8198-1040 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English,
Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank