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Lawyers in China must endorse socialism to practise law
Pic: Shutterstock

09 Jul 2021 / rule of law Print

China's lawyers forced to endorse socialism

The sixth anniversary of a draconian crackdown on Chinese lawyers and human-rights defenders has been marked by international legal organisations.

The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Judicial Reform Foundation, and Lawyers for Lawyers, have each commemorated the 9 July 2015 crackdown that saw an estimated 300 lawyers and human-rights defenders arrested, summoned or briefly detained.

The incident has become known as the ‘709 Crackdown’.

Held incommunicado

lawyers that acted for the victims of the crackdown – have been detained, arrested, held incommunicado, summoned to appear before court, convicted, or otherwise restricted in their freedom, the campaigning bodies say.

Lawyers and human-rights defenders have been prosecuted for vague and over-broad crimes such as ‘subversion of state power’, ‘inciting subversion of state power’, ‘picking quarrels’ or ‘stirring up troubles’, and sentenced to lengthy stays in prison.

Examples of this are the cases of human-rights lawyers Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, Xie Yang and, more recently, Jian Tianyong, Yu Wensheng and Li Yuhan.

In some cases, lawyers have been detained for years without trial, or have been tried behind closed doors without access to proper legal representation.

Torture allegations

Allegations of torture and abuse in prison are a very serious and widespread issue, the campaigners say.

Even after serving their sentences, many convicted lawyers and human-rights defenders are subjected to further (judicial) harassment in the form of continuous surveillance and economic restrictions, a practice that has been dubbed ‘non-release release’.

Authorities have also suspended and revoked lawyers’ licences to practise law, blocked access to court houses, as well as delayed licence renewal processes for lawyers convicted in the wake of the 709 Crackdown.

Impossible to freely practise

Through these practices, the authorities have made it impossible for lawyers to freely practice their profession, today’s (9 July) statement says.

Since November 2016, all lawyers and law firms are required to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, and the socialist rule of law, as a basic requirement for legal practice.

These directives impede lawyers’ right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and have seriously weakened the independence of lawyers, the statement says.

The organisations stress that the right to practice law independently, and free from judicial harassment, is an essential component in upholding the rule of law.

Fundamental role

“Lawyers play a fundamental role in ensuring the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The rights and duties of both lawyers and governments are specified in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

Principle 16 reads: "Governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference, are able to travel and consult with their clients freely within their country and abroad, and particularly that they shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics" .

In addition, lawyers must not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions (Principle 18).

Persecution of lawyers

The campaigners have urged the government of the People’s Republic of China to uphold the rule of law, respect the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and bring an end to the persecution of lawyers.

All lawyers who have been unduly detained for carrying out their professional activities should be immediately released, and all acts of judicial and/or economic harassment of lawyers must cease, they say.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland