07/20/2010, 00.00
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Licence to practice not renewed for lawyers who defend human rights or Falun Gong

Each year, Chinese lawyers must have local bar associations renew their licence to practice. Last year and even more so this year, renewal has been often rejected or made very difficult for lawyers who defend Tibetans, pro-rights activists or Falun Gong members.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese authorities have refused to renew the professional licenses of several prominent rights lawyers in this year’s review. Other rights lawyers were forced to clear extra hurdles before passing the annual review, which has been criticised as a mechanism to control what cases lawyers represent.

“Now some new conditions are appearing. It seems that . . . before allowing them to pass, they requested many lawyers write various guarantees—not to take on certain cases, not to receive interviews, etc,” prominent rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pictured with microphone) told Radio Free Asia. This year, his license was not renewed for the second time.

Other rights lawyers who did not pass included Wen Haibo, Zhang Lihui, Tong Chaoping, Yang Huiwen, and Li Jinsong, according to a statement issued by the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group on Friday.

The review process, which is conducted by the local bar associations, examines individual lawyers’ work over the past year and requires lawyers to register, pay a fee, and receive approval for renewal of their licenses. 

When lawyers lose their licenses in the review, the cases they currently represent cannot proceed.

The process, for which the deadline was postponed this year to 15 July from the original date in May, has been criticized as a mechanism for controlling individual lawyers and preventing them from taking on cases that are sensitive for the authorities.

Jiang Tianyong has represented sensitive cases, including some involving Tibet protesters and Falun Gong members. He has also testified in the US Congress on rule of law issues in China.

Another rights lawyer, Wen Haibo, who had worked with the disappeared lawyer Gao Zhisheng, also failed the review for the second year in a row. He blames the authorities for putting pressure on law firms.

Jiang confirmed that law firms are put under growing pressures. Lawyers are forced to make “strict promises” as well as “pay guarantee deposits”. However, “as soon as they say they are going to do a certain case, this insurance money disappears.”

Other lawyers who handled “sensitive” cases have had their licence renewed only after much difficulty or long waiting periods.

Chang Boyang, for example, is a rights lawyer from Henan, who defended a member of Falun Gong, as well as Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen and families of the victims in the melamine tainted milk scandal.

In May, he collected a hundred lawyers’ signatures on a petition against the practice of using mental illness as an excuse to illegally detain activists and put them under psychiatric care.

In May 2009, at the end of last year’s inspection, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice refused to renew the licenses of over 50 lawyers.

A week later, Beijing authorities also closed down the Open Constitution Initiative, a legal research centre.

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