05/19/2006, 00.00
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Beijing threatens lawyers: "Don't help anti-government protesters"

According to the new rules, published by the All-China Lawyers Association, lawyers "should not help those who present or prepare petitions to the government or the Party."

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Chinese government has announced new restrictions for lawyers who defend in court those people who plan or participate in public rallies. And lawyers have been warned to avoid any contact with foreign organizations and press agencies.

The All-China Lawyers Association, a government-controlled body that regulates the profession, has issued a "Guiding Opinion on Lawyers Handling Mass Cases". The rules demand that lawyers who take on such cases – brought by protesters and other groups of 10 or more – should report the cases to the association and "accept the monitoring and guidance of the judicial administration agencies".

The association said the rules were needed to ensure that sensitive disputes "did not threaten social stability". It wrote on its internet website: "Mass cases often involve complex social, economic and political causes and have a varied impact on the state and society that cannot be ignored. Therefore, there is a need to regulate and guide lawyers who handle mass cases."

Early this year, the Ministry of Public Security said there had been 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other "public-order disturbances" in 2005, a rise of 6.6% on 2004.

Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing law professor who often represents citizens suing government officials and police, said: "Growing numbers of aggrieved citizens have raised their claims in court, helped by a small but growing 'band' of full-time rights campaigners. This imposes a new obligation on lawyers to report these cases to the Association, and that may attract problems and pressure for lawyers."

According to the rules, lawyers should not help people to organize or take part in mass petitions to present to government or Communist Party officials. They must show a "high level of social responsibility".

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