Practicing law now will require an oath of allegiance to the Communist Party
Apprehensive over lawyers' activism on behalf of religious and political dissidents, China's regime imposes a new oath to support "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and "the leadership of the Communist Party". The pledge must be taken within three months of obtaining the permit to practice.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - China's Justice Ministry now requires would-be lawyers to swear an oath of allegiance to the leadership of the Communist Party, the Legal Daily, which published the entire oath, reported yesterday. The goal is to limit the activism of dissident lawyers who want to uphold the rule of law against the subordination of the justice system to the one-party state.

The new oath reads, "I wish to become a lawyer of the People's Republic of China, and I guarantee to fulfil the sacred mission of a law worker of socialism with Chinese characteristics, be loyal to the country, be loyal to the people, support the leadership of the Communist Party, support the socialist system, protect the constitution and the authority of the law."

Lawyers are opposed to the oath, and their views are largely echoed in the blogosphere. The All China Lawyers Association had already adopted an oath in 2000, but it was not effectively implemented and did not refer to the party.

For Beijing lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, although the capital's lawyers' association had held swearing-in ceremonies for new lawyers since 2000, the oath upheld the constitution and a lawyer had to promise to abide by the rules of the association. Now, for the first time, a "political requirement" has been included in the oath.

What is more, a government department, not the Lawyers' Association, will be the body performing the oath ceremony. Anyone who obtained their permit to practice would have three months to make their pledge.

For Blogger Zhang Xingsheng, this raises a several questions. "If a case concerns a party official or unit, then wouldn't this oath be self-contradictory? If a lawyer must swear allegiance to a party, he should not be called a lawyer, but a defender of the party."

However, the reason behind the oath is to stop activist lawyers who, over the years, have represented, often for free, demonstrators and dissidents.

The better-known cases are those of Gao Zhisheng (pictured) and Chen Guangcheng. The former was actually deemed one of China's top ten lawyers. After he converted to Christianity, he decided to help members of social and religious groups persecuted by the government. The latter, who is blind and nicknamed the 'barefoot lawyer', has clashed for years with the authorities over the rights of AIDS patients and against forced abortions.

The emergence of 'unruly' lawyers has been a major source of concern for the regime. Until a few years ago, the party ruled unchallenged with the collusion of all professional orders. By the late 1990s, things began to change as lawyers began appealing verdicts on the basis of the rule of law. Now they accuse the authorities of betraying the country's constitution.