WASHINGTON—An activist Chinese legal scholar has called for greater international attention on rights violations in China, particularly the authorities’ bid to stop rights defenders by cancelling their licenses to practice law.
“China has a growing attorney community, which now has probably 140,000 to 150,000 members. Lawyers have strong ties with the people, and they belong to neither the officialdom nor the judiciary system,” legal expert and philosopher Wang Guangze said in an interview here.
“In recent years, some rights lawyers’ own rights to conduct business have been deprived by authorities through annulment of their licenses. This act should receive the close attention of the whole Chinese society as well as the international community,” Wang said.
“If their rights were violated, this is not only harmful to the legal practice, but also harmful to society as a whole,” said Wang, who has worked at the China Legal Daily, 21st Century Economic Herald, and The New York Times.
Wang was here Friday with Beijing-based rights lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Zhang Kai, both of whom have been harassed and detained following their work on behalf of clients reviled by the authorities, such as ethnic Uyghur criminal defendants or members of the banned Falun Gong movement.
Chinese rights advocates have long complained of intimidation, beatings, and detention for defending dissidents. Zhang’s law license was suspended in May 2009. Jiang has faced trouble from the authorities in renewing his law license in 2006, 2008, and 2009.
Tibet an issue
Jiang, whose law license was suspended this year, has taken on politically sensitive clients including a Tibetan religious leader charged after the March 2008 unrest in Lhasa, victims of a Shanxi province slave labor ring freed in June 2007, and members of the banned Falun Gong movement.
Jiang most recently ran afoul of the government after initiating an open letter offering free legal services to Tibetans detained in connection with a massive uprising against Chinese rule in March 2008.
“I believe that Tibetans are Chinese citizens and should be protected by the Chinese law. The Lhasa riots attracted worldwide attention and the related trials should be carried out even more strictly according to China’s Constitution and law, to ensure everyone’s rights are protected. But all the attorneys who signed my open letter were harassed by police,” Jiang said.
Jiang said he has suffered police harassment and telephone surveillance since 2005.
“Police also harassed my family members in 2006, 2008, and this year. They set up surveillance posts in front of my residence and stopped me from going out on sensitive days such as June 4, or when the authorities had an important meeting,” Jiang said.
“The Beijing legal administrative authorities didn’t renew my attorney license last July, as a punishment. But now there are around a dozen lawyers nationwide who didn’t get their licenses renewed for the year of 2009.”
Zhang Kai, whose law license was suspended in May 2009, said he was barred from meeting with a Uyghur criminal defendant whom he had agreed to represent.
“The rights cases I dealt with include some cases of religious freedom,” he said, citing members of the banned Falun Gong movement, which Beijing regards as a cult, as well as detainees who had been subject to torture.
“A typical case is a Christian by the name Ali Mujiang in Xinjiang. He is an ethnic Uyghur and has been illegally detained for almost two years but there is still no solution in sight. After I took the case, I was not allowed to meet him, and the legal authorities said to me ‘You cannot represent him.’”
“All these cases showed that basic human rights are not protected in China,” Zhang said.
“Even I was beaten up by police this past May.”
Original reporting by He Ping for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou.