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【A Joint Statement to Strongly Condemn the Chinese Government’s Suppression against Human Rights Lawyers through Revocation and Invalidation of Lawyers’ Licenses】

The Chinese government has continued its repression against human rights lawyers for almost 3 years since the start of the sensational and unprecedented “709 Crackdown” in July 2015. While the crackdown has seemingly come to an end, the suppression has not yet ceased. Apart from the manoeuvreof criminal detention, the Chinese government has now resorted to a subtler form of repression, administrative penalty, which involves revocation or invalidation of lawyers’ legal practice licenses, thus depriving them of their right to practice law.[1]

 

From our observation, at least 17 human rights lawyers and 3 law firms have had their licenses revoked or invalidated in China over the past 8 months. We, the undersigned, strongly condemn this manoeuvre. We believe that the acts of the Chinese government have seriously violated the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (“the Constitution”), the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Lawyers (“Lawyers’ Law”), and international human rights law which prescribes that state members shall respect and protect lawyers’ right to practice and the civil rights of all citizens. We urge the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally withdraw all the decisions about revoking and invalidating lawyers’ licenses and to stop all forms of harassment, intimidation and repression against human rights lawyers in respect of their legal practice.

 

It has come to our attention that the Chinese authorities have launched another wave of nationwide suppression against human rights lawyers since September 2017 (i.e., the eve of 19thParty Congress), which has been intensifying. In the past 8 months, 17 human rights lawyers and 3 law firms from 9 different provinces have been deprived of the rights to practise as lawyers due to the revocation and invalidation of their practising licenses. In the past month alone, 6 human rights lawyers have already received notice from the Bureau of Justice that their licenses were to be revoked or invalidated, including Xie Yanyi, Li Heping, Huang Simin, Wen Donghai, Yang Jinzhu and Qin Yongpei. The sole human rights law firm in Guangxi, the Nanning Baijuming Law Firm, was also forced to be immediately shut down by the Nanning Municipal Bureau of Justice. Despite the Chinese government’s commitment to protect its citizens’ right to a fair and public trial which shall offer lawyers a fair hearing, the hearing procedures have never been truly open and transparent. All legal remedies are de factofutile. One Hong Kong journalist was even beaten by police and illegally detained while attempting to cover the hearing of lawyer Xie Yanyi.[2]

 

In the meantime, this wave of suppression of human rights lawyers is an extension of the notorious “709 Crackdown” in 2015. Amongst the aforementioned 17 lawyers, more than half are the 709 detainees or the defence lawyersfor the 709 detainees. The former includes Sui Muqing, Zhou Shifeng, Li Chunfu, Xie Yanyi and Li Heping, etc., while the latter includes Yu Wensheng, Wen Donghai, Yang Jinzhu and Qin Yongpei, etc. The purpose of repressing the lawyers detained in the “709 Crackdown” is to uproot the core community of human rights lawyers, while the purpose of repressing their defence lawyersis to purge the honorable lawyers arising from the “709 Crackdown”.

 

It is also noted that the Chinese government has in fact controlled lawyers’ freedom of speech online by threatening to impose “administrative penalties”. According to Article 35 of the Constitution[3]and Article 23 of Basic Principles of the Role of Lawyers (“the Principles”) by the United Nations,[4]lawyers are entitled to freedom of speech and expression. Lawyers shall not be punished simply for exercising their freedom of speech. However, lawyers Zhu Shengwu, Wu Youshui, Yu Wensheng and Yang Jinzhu all received punishment due to their online criticisms of the Communist Party of China and China’s judicial system. In the case of lawyer Yu Pinjian, the law firm he belonged to was pressured by the authorities to dismiss him because he had repeatedly made comments on current affairs and politics online. In addition, lawyers Peng Yonghe, Wang Londe and Wang Liqian had their licenses retributively revoked or invalidated due to their public announcements about quitting the officially-run Lawyers’ Association. Thus it can be seen that China’s alleged “rule of law” is just a veneer to deceive the public. The underlying purpose is to justify its unlawful acts of restricting freedom of speech and repressing dissidents. It is worth noting that the former deputy minister of the Ministry of Public Security, Fu Zhenghua, was named Minster of Justice in March of this year. We share deep concern over the foreseeable exacerbation of the political situation.

 

In light of the above, we, the undersigned, solemnlydemand the Chinese government to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally withdraw all the decisions in respect of the revocation and invalidation of lawyers’ practising licenses.
  2. Stop all forms of political repression against human rights lawyers to ensure that lawyers do not suffer intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference, prosecution or administrative sanctions for taking up sensitive cases or for giving speeches in accordance with their recognized professional duties.
  3. Duly upholdand respect the legal rights enjoyed by Chinese lawyers, which include the right to practice and civil rightsprotectedunderthe Constitution, relevant legislation governing the practice of lawyers in China,and the Principles ofthe United Nations.

 

 

Initiator:

China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Hong Kong

 

Co-signatories:

Human Rights Now,Japan

 

Lawyers for Lawyers, Netherlands

 

Progressive Lawyers Group, Hong Kong

 

Taiwan Support China Human Rights Lawyers Network, Taiwan

 

Taipei Bar Association Human Rights Committee, Taiwan

 

The Geneva Bar Association, Switzerland

 

 

6thJune 2018

 

 

Appendix:

A List of Human Rights Lawyers who are Administratively Penalized by the Government

 

 

[1]According to Article 23 of Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers, if a lawyer is dismissed by the incumbent law firm and not employed by a registered law firm for over 6 months, his or her legal practice license will be invalidated. From a legal perspective, the nature of “revoked” is different from that of “invalidated”. However, past experiences have shown that both statuses have same de factooutcome, lawyers generally cannot resume their practice.

[3]Article 35 of Constitution of the People’s Republic of China: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”

[4]Article 23 of United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers: “Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.”