Chinese human rights defenders subjected to ‘absurd’ disbarment hearing

Amnesty International has condemned as ‘absurd’ a legal hearing aiming to revoke the legal licences of two Chinese human rights lawyers who had defended Falun Gong practitioners.    Evidence presented at the Beijing Municipal Judicial Bureau hearing against lawyers Liu Wei and Tang Jitian included accusations that they had behaved illegally by making arguments and disputing opinions in Luzhou Court in April 2009.   “The notion that lawyers can be punished for presenting evidence and arguing their case in court is absurd,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.  “The Chinese Ministry of Justice must send a signal that it will protect lawyers from political intimidation and uphold their right and duty to defend their clients appropriately, in line with Chinese law and international legal standards.”The Beijing Municipal Judicial Bureau ended the hearing on Thursday without issuing a decision on revoking the lawyers’ licences, or officially testifying that the lawyers had “violated law”, which is seen as small victory for the legal process.  Liu Wei, one of the lawyers being threatened with having her license revoked, told Amnesty International “it may take a month to get a result.  But after the legal debate they may realized that they are the ones who have violated the law, not us.” “If the result is judged by our defence today and according to the law, we will surely win.”The two lawyers still stand accused of “disrupting courtroom order and interfering with the regular litigation process” while defending members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.Some 500 supporters of the lawyers protested outside the hearing venue, and were met by nearly 200 police officers.  Around 20 protesters were detained, most of whom were released by the end of the day. 

Government authorities used intimidation to prevent two lawyers scheduled to represent Liu Wei and Tang Jitian from attending the hearing, and other prominent lawyers supporting the pair were put under surveillance or “soft detention” to prevent them attending.“Escalating harassment of Chinese lawyers is seriously undermining the rule of law, and risks further lowering public trust in the Chinese legal system,” said Sam Zarifi.Government authorities in China continue to harass and disrupt the work of lawyers taking politically sensitive cases, in particular cases involving Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uighurs.In March 2010, Chang Boyang, a lawyer representing Tibetan Film maker, Dhondup Wangcheng, was threatened with the closing of his law firm if he did not drop the case, mirroring the treatment of Dhondup Wangcheng’s previous lawyer Li Dunyong.  Dhondup Wangcheng was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for “inciting separatism” for making a documentary, Leaving Fear Behind, which features a series of interviews with Tibetans questioning the Chinese authorities’ promises of greater freedom in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.