Lawyers Under the Gun

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In a story that was flagged by Ling Liu below on the crackdown ahead of the June 4th anniversary I listed a number of examples of tightened control by the authorities and said that it would likely loosen up a bit after the anniversary. But the piece’s broader point was that the current very low level of tolerance for any form of dissent is likely to continue for some years. A recent release by New York-based Human Rights in China testifies that as far as public interest lawyers in China go, a small but courageous group who have defended everyone from dissidents to alleged Falungong practitioners, that increasingly looks like a major understatement. The group says that the authorities have been making it more and more difficult for these lawyers to practice (using methods ranging from non-renewal of their lisences to practice law to outright kidnapping) and that pressure has increased in recent days to the point where the group is under “all out attack.” This group is one of the last of its kind, smart, gutsy professionals who take the government at its word that the constitution gurantees rule of law rather than the rule of the Party. That they are being so comprehensively intimidated and sidelined is a signal that the already rampant security hardliners are able to do pretty much what they want. The full report on this worrying development is after the jump.

Chinese Rights Defense Lawyers Under All-out Attack by the Authorities

DATE: June 4, 2009

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that in recent days, the Chinese authorities have used various procedural obstacles, harassment, and even kidnapping to launch an all-out attack on rights defense lawyers. As of June 1, at least 17 Chinese rights defense lawyers did not receive their “annual licensing inspection and registration” (
年度考核登记) approval from the Lawyers Association in their localities, a requisite for lawyers to continue to practice law. Among the law firms that employ these lawyers, at least three firms were also denied the approval, which directly affects the more than 30 lawyers employed by these those firms. As a result, these rights defense lawyers and law firms have lost their right to continue to practice, and the cases they are currently representing will not be able to proceed. Additionally, this action may deter even more lawyers and law firms from working in an area of law that attracts few lawyers and law firms to begin with.
In addition, sources tell HRIC that before dawn on June 4, Tang Jitian (
唐吉田) from Beijing, one of the 17 lawyers who did not pass the annual inspection, was forcibly taken away by five policemen from the Haidian Branch Office of the Beijing Public Security Bureau. His whereabouts are currently unknown. Before being taken away, on June 3, he was illegally held for more than ten hours by the police from the Sijiqing substation of the Haidian Branch Office. Another lawyer, Lan Zhixue(兰志学), was also held for several hours.
Lawyers Jiang Tianyong (
江天勇), Li Heping (李和平), and Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), who did not pass the annual inspection, and at least three other rights defense lawyers, Li Fangping (李方平), Lan Zhixue, and Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), have been put under surveillance in recent days and required to take police cars when they go out. Since June 3, lawyer Jiang has been confined to his home by the police and prevented from going to work. Although having passed this year’s annual inspection, lawyer Zhang Kai (张凯) has been asked by his law firm to leave their employ without explanation. This newest development shows a concerted action by the authorities to suppress rights defense lawyers. This new development indicates a systematic effort by the authorities to suppress rights defense lawyers.
The 17 rights defense lawyers include 14 from Beijing and one each from Heilongjiang, Guangxi, and Liaoning Provinces. The three Beijing law firms that did not pass their annual inspection are Anhui (
北京市安汇律师事务所), Gongxin (北京市共信律师事务所), and Shunhe (北京市舜和律师事务所). The firms were told through official and unofficial channels that they did not pass their annual inspection because they represent mass cases “without going through the proper procedures”; their lawyers supported direct elections of representatives of the Lawyers Association; their lawyers advocated for lowering the annual lawyer’s registration fee; and they represented Falun Gong and other politically-sensitive cases. Most of the 17 lawyers have represented cases involving Falun Gong, HIV/AIDS, peasants who have lost land, the tainted milk powder scandal, Reeducation-Through-Labor, house churches, forced evictions, or have advocated direct elections for the Beijing Lawyers Association.
Many affected lawyers believe that this is a suppression tactic employed by the government authorities to prohibit lawyers and law firms from taking on politically-sensitive cases. Lawyer Tang Jitian said, “This is a display of meticulously planned suppression of lawyers who enforce and uphold the law and are dedicated to public interests.” Jiang Tianyong said, “This is a comprehensive and prepared operation, the goal of which is to render defense lawyers unable to practice.” Lawyer Yang Huiwen (
杨惠文) also said, “We cannot accept this suspension of our professional activities that does not follow the regulations.”
The 17 lawyers who did not pass the annual inspection are Jiang Tianyong, Li Heping, Li Xiongbing, Li Chunfu (
李春富), and Wang Yajun (王雅军) of Globe-Law (北京高博隆华律师事务所) in Beijing; Cheng Hai (程海), Tang Jitian, and Yang Huiwen of Anhui Law Firm in Beijing; Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) and Li Dunyong (李敦勇) of Gongxin Law Firm in Beijing; Wen Haibo (温海波) and Liu Wei (刘巍) of Shunhe Law Firm in Beijing; Zhang Lihui (张立辉) of Beijing G&G (Giant and Goal) Law Firm (北京市国纲华辰律师事务所) in Beijing; Li Jinglin (李静林) of Jiurui Law Firm (北京市久瑞律师事务所) in Beijing; Wei Liangyue (韦良玥) of Jiaodian Law Firm (黑龙江焦点律师所) in Heilongjiang; Yang Zaixin (杨在新) of Baijuming Law Firm (广西百举鸣律师事务所) in Guangxi; Sun Wenbing (孙文冰) of Xinhe Law Firm (辽宁欣合律师事务所) in Liaoning.
HRIC calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately stop the systematic suppression of rights defense lawyers. Rights defense lawyers fight for the public interest and safeguard the lawful rights and interests of groups facing discrimination, and are the core strength in the construction of rule of law. “The authorities’ suppression of rights defense lawyers using various excuses and procedural obstacles, harassment, and intimidation is a great step backward on the path toward rule of law,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “This suppression will inevitably lead to grave consequences for society, creating greater disadvantages for already persecuted groups and greater social instability.” HRIC urges the Chinese government to take conscientious steps to rectify these measures, which are counter to the goal of building a “harmonious society.”

The following is a statement written in late May 2009 by a group of rights defense lawyers regarding their plight, which has been translated into English by HRIC.

On the eve of June Fourth, Chinese rights defense lawyers face full-scale repression. Nearly 20 lawyers will be unable to practice.

May 2009

At the time of the twentieth anniversary of June Fourth, the rigid and backward political system has led to social conflicts of unprecedented intensity, and incidents of human rights violations are happening all the time. As the Chinese government bears down heavy-handedly to rain in petitioning citizens, free intellectuals, rights defenders, and religious figures, it has once again in 2009 intensified its full-scale repression of rights defense lawyers to an unprecedented degree. The process of building a country ruled by law has suffered a serious setback, causing widespread concern through all circles of society.
Background: Rights defense lawyers are increasingly active in a wide range of human rights issues

After the June Fourth Incident in 1989, the reform of the Chinese political system came to a complete halt. Corruption among the privileged and the occurrence of social injustice was exacerbated, and incidents of group discontent became recurrent. This kind of social environment in China gradually gave rise to a group of rights defense lawyers who took upon themselves the responsibility of upholding the rule of law, safeguarding human rights, defending the legal rights of citizens, and protecting the impartiality of justice. These lawyers have been widely active in the defense of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and racial equality; in the defense of the rights and interests of human rights workers, journalists, ethnic minorities, parents from the earthquake disaster area, and owners facing house demolition and land confiscation; in the defense of equal rights when it comes to environmental protection, food safety, disease prevention and medical care; and in safeguarding the civil rights of information, participation, and oversight, while offering voluntary legal service in these areas. The emergence and growth of the rights defense lawyers’ community is considered a major achievement in China’s 30-year-long rebuilding of its legal system, and is regarded as an indicator of progress in China’s establishment of rule of law. But these lawyers who adhere to the rule of law and defend rights according to law have been viewed as a challenge by China’s procuratorial and judicial system and by its special interest groups. As the twentieth anniversary of June Fourth approaches, the authorities are stepping up their unprecedented full-scale repression of rights defense lawyers.
Current Situation: A large number of lawyers have encountered administrative “rectification” and infringement by force
February 4, 2009: Prominent rights defense lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was on probation, was taken by police from his ancestral home in Shaanxi Province and disappeared for a long period of time.
February 28, 2009: Wei Liangwan, a lawyer from Heilongjiang Province who has defended the accused in many religious freedom cases, was arrested by Harbin police for no reason at all.
March 17, 2009: Beijing’s Yitong Law Firm was penalized with a six-month shutdown and “reorganization.” Prominent rights defense lawyers Li Jingsong and Li Subin were unable to continue to work as lawyers or proxies.
April 10, 2009: While representing farmers who had lost their land, Yang Zaixin, a lawyer from Guangxi Province, was cruelly beaten by several thugs connected with the government’s illegal seizure of land.
April 12, 2009: Cheng Hai, a lawyer from Beijing, was illegally obstructed and savagely beaten by government workers from the Jinyang Street Office and Stability Preservation Office while working in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
April 16, 2009: Liu Yao, a lawyer from Guangdong Province who was representing peasants who had lost their land, was sentenced to one year of imprisonment with a two-year reprieve.
May 13, 2009: While Beijing lawyers Zhang Kai and Li Chunfu worked in Jiangjin District in Chongqing, approximately 20 policemen illegally broke into the house of their client, handcuffed and then savagely beat the two lawyers. At the police station, Zhang Kai’s handcuffs were shackled to an overhead iron bar within the cell. The police forced an illegal inspection of his files and took away key pieces of evidence.
These [cases] indicate that on the eve of June Fourth, the actions of China’s procuratorial and judicial system to “rectify” and suppress rights defense lawyers have become pervasive. Not only that, what is even more serious is that China’s procuratorial and judicial system is currently taking advantage of the so-called “Annual Inspection and Registration” to directly strip numerous rights defense lawyers of their right to practice.

Crisis: Numerous rights defense lawyers face immediate temporary suspension or closing of their practice

After judicial authorities adopted various measures of repression, such as annulment of licenses, registration deferral, and suspension of practice, against Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, and other rights defense lawyers in 2008 under the pretext of “Annual Inspection and Registration,” a new round of repressive action against rights defense lawyers has already openly begun in 2009. Numerous rights defense lawyers, including Jiang Tianyong, Li Heping, Li Xiongbing, Li Chunfu, Wang Yajun, Cheng Hai, Tang Jitian, Yang Huiwen, Xie Yanyi, Li Dunyong, Wen Haibo, Liu Wei, Zhang Lihui, Peng Jian, Li Jinglin, Lan Zhixue, Zhang Kai, Liu Xiaoyuan, Wei Liangyue (Heilongjiang), and Yang Zaixin (Guangxi), will have their professional qualifications revoked or temporarily suspended under the pretext of the “Annual Inspection and Registration.”
The law firms of these lawyers, such as Beijing’s Globe-Law, Anhui, Gongxin, Shunhe, G&G, Jiurui, Jiafa, Yijia, and Qijian; Heilongjiang’s Jiaodian; Guangxi’s Baijuming; and numerous other law firms have been receiving instructions and warnings, one after another, from the Ministry of Judicial Administration and from the Lawyers Association. Some law firms have been asked to immediately rescind employment contracts of lawyers involved with rights defense, others have been asked to give the verdict of “failure to pass annual inspection” in the name of the law firm to the lawyers involved with rights defense, so as to comply with the repressive actions of legal license annulment and temporary suspension of professional qualifications implemented by the procuratorial and judicial system.
The system of Annual Inspection and Registration of lawyers is an institution for the supervision of the legal profession with particularly Chinese characteristics. Lawyers who have legally obtained professional qualifications must pay between 500 and 5,000 yuan in inspection and registration fees before May of each year. They must also acquire the “Annual Inspection and Registration” stamp on their lawyer’s license from the judicial administration office in their province in order to be able to continue with their practice. This system has become the most effective method for the procuratorial and judicial system and the government-operated lawyers associations to amass wealth and suppress the rights defense lawyers. The practices of the Shaanxi lawyer Zhang Jiankang, Guangdong lawyers Tang Jingling and Guo Yan, and Shandong lawyer Li Jianqiang (Liu Lu) were all temporarily suspended or closed during the annual inspection and registration process because they participated in rights defense cases. Because this system contradicts several laws, such as the Administrative Licensing Law, the Law on Administrative Penalties, and the Lawyers Law, and because numerous lawyers in China have criticized it as the forced collection of fees and extortion of lawyers, on July 18, 2008, the Chinese Ministry of Justice issued Order 112 to formally repeal the inspection and registration system that year.
However, after the lawyer’s yearly inspection and registration system was abolished, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice and judicial authorities of several other cities and provinces separately launched lawyer’s “Annual Inspection and Registration” systems of their own at the beginning of 2009, enabling the “Annual Inspection and Registration” system to continue in disguise.
Beijing’s Municipal Lawyers’ “Annual Inspection and Registration” system stipulates that every lawyer in the city must receive annual professional inspection from the Beijing Lawyers Association and pay 2,500 yuan in membership fees collected for the purpose of member registration. Lawyers who pass the inspection will have their lawyer’s licenses stamped with an “inspection pass” seal by the lawyers association and can continue their practice. Lawyers who do not pass the inspection must return their lawyer’s licenses to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice, have the license annulled, and stop their practice.
May 31 is the deadline for lawyers to pass the “Annual Inspection and Registration.” After May 31, a large number of rights defense lawyers, including the lawyers mentioned above, will have their lawyer’s licenses annulled by judicial authorities under the pretext that they “failed the annual inspection,” or their membership registration will be deferred so that they cannot continue to practice. The Beijing Lawyers Association, which was intended to uphold the rights and interests of lawyers, will once again become the accomplice of the judicial administrative institutions in suppressing rights defense lawyers. What until now had been covert practice is now being carried out openly.