Dick Thornburgh: China’s Harassed Lawyers

Former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh writes an op-ed in today’s New York Times about the plight of China’ rights lawyers, who face escalating attacks and administrative barriers to their work:

These setbacks are part of a new, negative trend. Lawyers who take on sensitive cases or who seek redress for abuses committed by Communist Party officials are suffering a consistent pattern of abuse, including arrest and prosecution, harassment, suspension of their licenses or disbarment, and violent attacks.

The activism of these lawyers is an irritant to the Communist Party, which seeks to project an image of “social harmony” and an aspiration to develop the rule of law, while trying to maintain its ability to control legal and judicial decision-making. This seeming contradiction can be explained in part by the party’s desire to channel the grievances of an increasingly rights-aware citizenry toward the courts as a pressure release valve. In this way lawyers play an important role in maintaining social stability.

But abuses against lawyers can only exacerbate social unrest. Last year, according to official statistics released by the Ministry of Public Security, more than 90,000 protests took place in China. The Communist Party should realize that the overall benefits of a functioning legal system far outweigh the embarrassment caused by holding officials and institutions accountable.

Read also lawyer Teng Biao’s op-ed on this subject in yesterday’s Washington Post.

July 28, 2009 10:46 AM
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Categories: Human Rights, Law, Politics