Oppression of Lawyers
Some cases are known of lawyers who have been tailed by the (secret) police and state security forces because of their activities in politically sensitive cases. They are also systematically threatened and intimidated. In some cases, members of their family, too, are intimidated by the state security forces. A prohibition to contact the media and a travel ban are other means to curtail the freedom of these lawyers. It also happens that licences are withdrawn so that lawyers can no longer exercise their profession; often, merely threatening with such a withdrawal or making lawyers wait endlessly for an extension is at least as ‘effective’. Also, intimidating searches of law firms are conducted and sometimes even physical violence is used against them, or they are placed under detention or house arrest.
The kind of cases that involve a high risk of suppression for lawyers range from defending Tibetan protestors and followers of the Falun Gong to victims of the milk powder scandal and citizens of Beijing who were evicted from their homes because of the Olympic Games.
On 9 July 2015, a large number of human rights lawyers and defenders in China were arrested during an unprecedented and seemingly well-coordinated detention campaign. This campaign is also known as the ‘709-crackdown’. The wave of arrests followed the disappearance of lawyer Wang Yu on 9 July 2015. In the weeks hereafter, more than 300 human rights lawyers, legal assistants, and rights activists were targeted during the nationwide sweep.
At present, 23 individuals are held under formal arrest, nine of them human rights lawyers, one law firm staff member and 13 human rights defenders. Six of the lawyers, including Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, Zhou Shifeng, Li Chunfu and Liu Sixin have been charged with the serious crimes of “subversion”. Three other lawyers, Bao Longjun, Xie Yanyi and Xie Yang, have been charged with “inciting subversion”.
The lawyers have been held in pre-trial detention for more than half a year. Even though these lawyers were arrested on or around 9 July 2015,, none of them has been able to meet with their defense counsel and family. Lawyer Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun were recently released on bail.
Legal Practice in China
There are presently some 170,000 lawyers practising in China, spread out over some 10,000 law firms. The number of lawyers grows yearly by tens of thousands. China has a licence system in place for lawyers. Lawyers must extend their licence annually to continue practising as a lawyer. Without a licence, it is for instance not permitted to represent clients in court. The licence is extended by oral decision. These decisions are not motivated which makes them difficult to appeal. The licences are issued and extended (or not) by the Judicial Bureau, which falls under the Minister of Justice.
L4L organised many letter writing campaigns for Chinese lawyers, among whom Gao Zhisheng (January 2012, February 2010 and June 2008), Ni Yulan (May 2011), Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian and Teng Biao (March 2011), Huang Qi (November 2009), Zhen Enchong (2007) and Li Jianqiang (2007).
L4L also spoke to various lawyers practising in China. In 2008 Jiang Tianyong was invited by L4L to address the Annual Meeting of the Bar Association, which he attended.
In March 2013, L4L together with Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada filed a joint submission for the Universal Periodic Review of China before the Human Rights Council on 22 October 2013. You can see the joint submission here.