Lawyer at Risk of Losing License, Facing Punishment for Defending Farmers

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For immediate release

CRD, March 29, 2007

Lawyer at Risk of Losing License, Facing Punishment for Defending Farmers

On March 28, 2007, Xi’an lawyer Zhang Jiankang (张鉴康) found that he was denied membership with the local Lawyers’ Association and he is now at risk of losing his license to practice law. The reason given by his law firm, the Shanxi Diyi Law Firm, which decided not to pay for Mr. Zhang’s annual membership fee, is that authorities pressured the firm to do so and disobeying may mean closure for the firm. Mr. Zhang is being penalized for taking on a well-known case in which he represented detained farmers who had tried to seek compensation for lost land in 2006.

Zhang Jiankang was shocked to hear from his law firm in Shanxi that the law firm could not pay his membership fee this year, because the Shanxi Province Lawyers Association, possibly with the Xi’an Bureau of Judicial Affairs behind it, threatened to close down the law firm if the firm supported his membership. Such fees must be paid by the firm where a lawyer is hired. Without the membership in a local lawyers’ association, no one could practice law in China. This means Zhang may be at risk of losing his license.

According to Chinese lawyers’ practice, each year in March law firms must pay for each of their employed lawyers’ membership fee, up to 800 yuan in Shanxi, to the local branch of the All China Lawyers’ Association. Only ACLA members will be granted a renewal of their licenses to practice law and conduct lawyerly work legally. If a lawyer lost or is rejected of membership, he or she will lose his/her license.

It is believed this punishment is due to Mr. Zhang’s refusal to stop his involvement in defending people involved in human rights cases. Zhang Jiankang once had his license suspended because he represented Guangdong Nanhai farmers who were detained while trying to organize a protest against land annexation and seek redress. He got his license back after hard negotiation. He was warned that he would not be so lucky again if he continued to be involved in similar cases, give interviews to the media, or write articles that criticize the government. Zhang refused to heed the warnings.

Zhang wants to take the Diyi Law Firm to court, but he is aware that his firm had no choice and the pressure comes from higher authorities. The All-China Lawyers’ Association and its local branches are government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs).

CRD believes that Zhang Jiankang’s retaliation for defending human rights cases is being carried out as a doubly disguised punishment: First, it came from a law firm, which was forced to take the measure by a GONGO, rather than directly from government authorities; and second, he is now obstructed from renewing his license due to a “technical” problem, so there would be no trace of official interference. Such cleverly disguised punishment of a human rights lawyer may be seen as a reaction to international pressure to push for more protection of criminal defense lawyers in China. It is nonetheless a violation of the international standards on the independence of lawyers and the protection of human rights defenders.

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