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Zhu Shengwu - the first lawyer having his licence revoked because he speaks online

Zhu Shengwu - the first lawyer having his licence revoked because he speaks online

Zhu Shengwu, practising lawyer in Shandong has recently been accused of making online speeches that “endangered state security”.  With the decision to penalise made by the Judicial Department of the Shandong province, Zhu has become the first ever lawyer to be forcefully stripped of his practising licence by administrative measure, not as a result of any professional misconduct but of exercising his civil right of expression.

Zhu’s case came after Zhenjiang lawyer Wu Youshui’s penalty by the local lawyers association of “a 9-month suspension of membership”, also because of his online speeches.  The Lawyers Law in China stipulates that all practising lawyers have to be members of the lawyers association.

Lawyer Zhu began his practice in January 2012. He has served in several law firms. He has been the director of Shandong Xinchang Law Firm in 2017 and he started taking up human rights cases in the same year.  Apart from his professional duties, lawyer Zhu has also been posting his comments on the social media in China on issues of social and political concerns.

On 6 September 2017, the Shandong Judicial Department issued a notice of administrative penalty to lawyer Zhu Shengwu to revoke his licence of practice.  Zhu was accused of having posted on Sina microblog “speeches that negate the constitutionally established political system, the fundamental principles and that endanger state security”.  He was also allegedly having “seriously damaged the professional image of lawyers by refusing to correct himself but continued with his acts of law-violation despite the many interviews the judicial administration organ had had with him.”

On 10 September, lawyer Zhu requested the Judicial Department to hold a public hearing on the matter, which subsequently took place on 21 September. The authorities however confirmed that Zhu “had used the internet to incite discontent against the Party and the government” and should hence be “heavily punished”.  The decision to revoke the licence was upheld.

The roughly 10 online posts were issued between April and June this year (see attached). They either criticised or ridiculed the CCP, the government and or the leaders; and were mainly comments on government performances or expressions of one’s aspirations for freedoms and democracy.  It does not look that they have constructed any objective or concrete threat on state security.

It is worth noting that although the two Measures, that on the Administration of Law Firms and that on the Lawyers Practice,  effective since November 2016, provide the judicial administration organs with the power to supervise and instruct law firms and lawyers, the prescribed power is confined to the behaviours and performances in the professional realm.

The issue has raised strong queries that the revocation of Zhu’s licence by the Shandong Judicial Department lacked any legal or factual grounds. It could amount to power abuses and violation of civil rights on the part of the Shandong authorities.

When the authorities tackled issues of lawyers’ speeches or expressions in the past, they were more prone to using the criminal procedures. But in Zhu’s case, the judicial administration organs have gone beyond the power that the law prescribed them and proceeded directly to revoke a lawyer’s licence. 

In this way, the complicated criminal procedure could be sidestepped, and the judicial administration organs might then extend their monitoring on lawyers’ conducts relatively easier and with lower cost.

There is another aspect of concern in Zhu’s case. Lawyer Zhu was born in the 80s and he is a new member to the community of the new lawyers.  He only started taking up rights defence cases in 2017 and early in the year, he pleaded non-guilty for Shandong petitioner Wang Jiangfeng who was accused of using abusive language against the old and new leaders in China, calling them “Mao thugs” and “Xi Baozi”.  In April, Wang was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”.  The case is pending for appeal.  [1]

To apply the extreme administrative penalty but without justifiable legal grounds, it is worried that the move of the Shandong Judicial Department is also a sign of warning those who are new to join the rights lawyers’ community

Over the recent weeks and months, at least 6 law firms across the country have been searched by taskforce formed by multi-government departments, 3 well-known lawyers are forced to change firms and at least lawyers including lawyer Zhu Shengwu have had their rights to practice either suspended or revoked for their online expression.

In the wake of the 709 Crackdown, the situation of rights lawyers in China will still warrant further international attention as they are being made target of another round of squelching.

Lawyer Zhu has appointed Guangdong lawyer Sui Muqing to take legal action for his case. [2]


For Enquiries:

Lawyer Zhu Shengwu (mainland China):  +86 186 6893 6828 (please whatsapp first)

Lawyer Sui Muqing (mainland China): +86 137 1112 4956 (please whatsapp first)

Kit Chan, China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (Hong Kong): +852 9735 1611


[1] Zai Weixin shag chen lingdaoren xibaozi, Shandong wangmin Wang Jiangfeng zao panxing 2nianHong Kong 01, 15/04/2017 https://www.hk01.com/sns/article/84627  (visited 29/09/ 2017)

[2]  According to the Law on Administrative Review (2009), lawyer Zhu may apply for administrative review at the Shandong Provincial government within 60 days after receiving the notice on the decision to penalise. He may also apply in accordance to the Administrative Litigation Law for administrative litigation in the court within 6 months.