Doomsday for Chinese Human-Rights Lawyers?
An opinion piece in the Asian Wall Street Journal looks at an apparent government crackdown on lawyers who work on human rights-related cases:
Last year Mr. Jiang was one of at least three rights lawyers known to have temporarily lost their licenses in this way, but this year there may be many more. I spoke by telephone or in person to 16 human-rights lawyers who have yet to renew their licenses. Some of these lawyers may receive their licenses before the May 31 deadline or shortly afterwards — one even said he had been specifically instructed to apply for his renewal on May 30, the second-to-last day.
[...] Some lawyers disagree that the government is treating them equally. Not only do they point to a wide-spread delay in issuing credentials specifically to lawyers with human-rights practices. They believe the delay is linked to the sensitivities of the anniversaries of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown and the founding of the People’s Republic, as well as a general tightening of control. “The Ministry of Justice uses the ‘annual exam’ to limit and restrict lawyers’ professional rights,” says Xie Yanyi, who handles cases for people with AIDS and represents farmers in land-rights cases.
The last few months have also seen an uptick in physical violence and detentions of these lawyers. In April, two were badly beaten by thugs in separate incidents. Earlier this month, lawyers Zhang Kai and Li Chunfu were beaten up and detained while investigating a case in Chongqing. For lawyers who lose their licenses, there is little recourse. Although technically they are allowed to sue the Ministry of Justice for reinstatement, there have been no successful cases of this nature in the past, according to several legal scholars.
See also “China: Leading Civil Rights Lawyers Face Threats to Licenses” from Human Rights Watch.