Licenses Delayed for China’s Rights Lawyers

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Originally published in the Radio Free Asia on June 06, 2013


Dozens of China’s top human rights lawyers are facing unexplained delays in getting their business licenses renewed, in what is possibly the biggest clampdown on the country’s embattled legal profession to date, lawyers and rights groups said this week.

Lawyers must renew their licenses annually, meeting the approval of judicial affairs bureau officials.

But the deadline for the annual review of legal licenses passed on May 31, with dozens of lawyers and entire law firms left in limbo.

“That’s right, we are processing it now, but it hasn’t come through yet,” said rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun, who guessed that the reason for the delay was due to his involvement in politically sensitive cases.

“It probably has to do with some of the cases I have represented in the past,” said Liang, who added that his application has been stalled repeatedly amid vague claims of incomplete paperwork.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Wang Yajun said the legal professional body, the China Law Association, had remained mute on the issue so far, however.

“To tell you the truth, they really haven’t done enough on this issue,” Wang said. “The rights and interests of rights lawyers have suffered a lot of damage over the past few years, but the Law Association almost never speaks out or takes action to protect them.”

“A lot of lawyers are very unhappy about this,” he said.

Legal licenses

In 2011, Beijing instituted a clampdown on its embattled legal profession, with many civil rights law firms struggling to renew their licenses since.

China frequently withholds the licenses of lawyers who represent “sensitive” and disadvantaged groups, such as those who pursue complaints against official wrongdoing.

Rights groups say there is little purpose to the annual lawyer licensing scheme, besides the exertion of state control over the legal profession.

New rules introduced in the past two years ban lawyers from defending certain clients and leave them vulnerable to being charged themselves with subversion if they defend sensitive cases.

Bob Fu, founder of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said the delays are part of a concerted attack by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on the legal profession.

“It’s very clear that the authorities in Beijing are making use of the annual business license renewal process to get revenge on lawyers who take on sensitive cases like defending people’s rights … cases involving re-education through labor,” Fu said.

“There are [a number] of lawyers and law firms that are now unable to carry out their business legally,” he said.

“This is a huge attack by the authorities on individual lawyers and on law firms, and it is a huge step backwards for China’s judicial system.”

‘Moving backwards’

According to the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, lawyers known to be affected include Chen Jihu, Dong Qianyong, Guo Haiyu, Lan Zhixue, Liang Xiaojun, Li Baiguang, Li Dunyong, Li Xiongbin, Lin Qilei, Liu Peifu, Wang Quanzhang, Wang Yajun, Wu Hongwei, Xie Yanyi, and Zhang Quanli.

“These lawyers have served as defense counsel for a wide range of human rights cases, including those involving Falun Gong practitioners,” (CHRD) said, in a reference to members of a banned spiritual movement.

“Lawyers Lin Qilei and Guo Haiyu are currently representing detainees caught up in the anti-corruption crackdown in Beijing,” the group said in an emailed statement on Thursday.

Beijing has revoked the licenses of a number of prominent rights lawyers in recent years, including Beijing-based Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, and Tang Jitian, as well as Guangzhou-based Tang Jingling, (CHRD) said.

Beijing-based veteran journalist and political commentator Gao Yu blamed tight controls on freedom of speech around topics like the rule of law and democratic politics for the weakness of the Chinese legal profession.

“I think that the Chinese media is very tightly controlled, and that it’s getting worse with every passing generation,” Gao said.

“Now, everything is moving backwards, including progress towards democracy, constitutional government and universal values,” she said.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Xi Wang for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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