Law Firm Punished for Advocating Direct Elections of Lawyers Association

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Law Firm Punished for Advocating Direct Elections of Lawyers Association

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, February 18, 2009)- Beijing’s Yitong Law Firm (北京忆通律师事务所) was notified that it would be forced to close for six months for “re-organization” by the Beijing Haidian District Bureau of Justice on February 17, 2009. Lawyers at the firm told CHRD that they believe the move is in retaliation for the advocacy of Yitong Law Firm lawyers for direct elections of the leadership of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association in 2008. The firm is also known for taking on tough rights cases, such as representing jailed activists Hu Jia and Chen Guangcheng.

On February 16, officials from the Haidian District Bureau of Justice arrived at the Yitong Law Firm to serve a notice accusing the firm of “facilitating the illegal work of an individual in providing legal services without having obtained a professional lawyer’s license.” The firm was asked to respond to this accusation by noon on February 17. The individual in question, Li Subin (李苏滨), is a lawyer from Henan Province. Li’s license was suspended by local authorities in Henan after he filed a suit against the Henan Bureau of Justice over abuses in the collection of lawyers’ registration fees. Li then came to Beijing, and was employed by the Yitong Law Firm as a legal aid worker. In August 2008, Li Subin and 34 other lawyers signed an open letter calling for direct elections for the Beijing Lawyers’ Association. As a result, Li, Cheng Hai (程海), Wen Haibo (温海波), Yang Huiwen (杨慧文), and Li Jianguo (李建国) were fired from the Yitong Law Firm in October 2008 under pressure from judicial authorities. Unbowed, these lawyers and other colleagues continued to call for direct elections, most recently gathering to distribute information outside of a film festival organized by the Beijing Lawyer’s Association in January 2009.

Representatives of Yitong Law Firm provided a written response at 11am of February 17 as directed by the notice served by the Haidian District Bureau of Justice. Only three hours later, the Bureau handed down its decision, forcing Yitong Law Firm to close for six months. The speed with which the punishment was decided and the timing of the punishment has led lawyers at the firm to believe that the firm was being targeted because of its members’ pro-democratic activities.

The Haidian District Bureau of Justice’s intimidation and punishment of members of the Yitong Law Firm for engaging in the peaceful activity of advocating for direct elections in their professional organization is an egregious abuse of power and a violation of the lawyers’ right to freedom of association. The right to freedom of association is guaranteed by Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution as well as Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed, though not yet ratified.

CHRD calls for the immediate re-opening of Yitong Law Firm and an end to retaliation against lawyers active in calling for democratic reforms in what is supposed to be their own independent professional association.

Media contacts for this press release:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin): +13015479286

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator and English Editor (English, Mandarin and Cantonese): +85281911660

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