Human Rights Voices

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China, September 7, 2009

China ”waging offensive” against human rights lawyers

Original source


China is waging an "unprecedented offensive" against human right lawyers who seek justice for anyone opposing the power of the ruling Communist Party, legal experts and civil rights groups have warned.

This year several prominent Chinese civil rights lawyers have either been detained or had their licenses withdrawn as Beijing tightens control ahead of next months 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China.

According to a report published by rights group Amnesty International on Monday lawyers daring to offer representation to those who challenge the power of the Chinese one-party state have borne the brunt of the clampdown.

"In the first half of 2009 alone, Amnesty International has learned of at least four human rights lawyers who have been threatened with violence; at least 10 who were prevented from meeting with or representing their clients in courts, and at least five who were briefly detained, one for one month, because of their human rights work," the report said.

"In recent months, an unprecedented offensive against human rights lawyers, legal activists and legal aid organisation has threatened not only the legal profession and the "weiquan" [civil rights defence] movement but also the very future of the justice system in China."

Lawyers who have been targeted by the authorities include those trying to represent members of the banned Falun Gong cult, petitioners angry at state-sanctioned land grabs and rioters who took part in July's ethnic unrest in the western province of Xinjiang.

Among the most high-profile recent casualties was China's Open Constitution Initiative or Gongmeng which was shut down last month after being accused of failing to pay tax on an overseas donation.

The organisation, run by a prominent lawyer Xu Zhiyong, had routinely challenged the widespread corruption in China, offering legal assistance to victims of official corruption, including the 2008 tainted milk scandal.

The 27-page Amnesty briefing said that government was also cynically using regulations requiring all lawyers to pass an "annual assessment" to disbar at least 16 lawyers with a track-record of representing those who challenged the ruling party.

Since 2007 China has been conducting a review of its legal system which was effectively destroyed in the Cultural Revolution but has been rebuilt as a political instrument that is used to enforce the "stability" of one-party rule.

The difficulty of obtaining justice, particularly against the actions of corrupt party officials, is a serious and frequent source of discontent among ordinary Chinese.

However the prospect of greater judicial independence appeared to be ruled out at this year's meeting of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, where senior leaders said the Communist Party must continue to dictate to the courts. "The Western model of a legal system cannot be copied mechanically in establishing out own," said Wu Bangguo, chairman of the NPC's standing committee.

International legal analysts say that reform of China's judiciary is essential for China's future economic and social development, but the Party's fear of ceding power continues to hinder positive progress.

Jerome A Cohen co-director of the US-Asia Law Institute in New York wrote in an article last month that activist lawyers were the "first casualties" in the increasingly intense battle between the Chinese state and a growing popular demand for justice.

"The battle has become increasingly intense as the party seeks to preserve its monopoly of power against multiple challengers who have been disappointed by their inability to obtain relief from the truncated, authoritarian and inadequate legal system."