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China: Dark times for lawyers as repression intensifies (AI)

The Chinese government has unleashedan uncompromising series of measures intended to rein in the legal professionand suppress lawyers pursuing human rights cases, Amnesty Internationalsaid today. Against the Law – Crackdown on China’sHuman Rights Lawyers Deepens details how state efforts to control lawyershave intensified over the last two years – and particularly in recentmonths.  "Human rights lawyers are subjectto escalating silencing tactics – from suspension or revoking of licences,to harassment, enforced disappearance or even torture," said CatherineBaber, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Deputy Director.Government fears of a "JasmineRevolution" inspired by the Arab Spring have led to the detentionof scores of government critics, activists and netizens since February. As part of the crackdown, the governmentis rounding up lawyers associated with issues such as freedom of religion,freedom of expression and land rights.  "The Chinese state is attemptingto wield and manipulate the law to crush those it perceives as a threat,"Catherine Baber said. “Human rights lawyers are being targetedas they try to use the law to protect citizens against the excesses ofthe state.  The government must release all those detained or forciblydisappeared for exercising, or even protecting fundamental rights,"she added. Every year members of the legal professionin China have to undergo an 'Annual Assessment' which many believe hasno basis under Chinese law. Local authorities assess law firms, while individuallawyers are assessed by supposedly independent lawyers associations. Lawyerswho dare to take up 'sensitive' cases, such as human rights cases, oftenfail this assessment, which leads to their licence being suspended or revoked.When annual assessment or threats failto deter lawyers taking on such cases, lawyers are silenced by the authoritiesin ways that violate international human rights standards, and even China’sown laws. The pressure, intimidation and persecutionfaced by human rights lawyers have kept their numbers down. Out of morethan 204,000 lawyers in China, only a brave few hundred risk taking oncases that deal with human rights.New regulations introduced in 2009-2010prohibit lawyers from defending certain clients, commenting on their workto the media or challenging court malpractice, and expand the basis forlawyers to be charged with the crime of "inciting subversion"when carrying out legal defence. The measures have made legal representationmore difficult to find for those who need it most. These include people prosecuted formembership of unofficial religious groups including the Falun Gong spiritualmovement, Tibetan and Uighur protestors, victims of forced evictions, orthose who challenge the government's response to natural disasters or foodsafety issues. Individuals who have suffered violationssuch as torture and illegal detention by the state are particularly vulnerableto inadequate legal representation. Examples include individuals facingthe death penalty, prosecuted largely on the basis of confessions extractedthrough torture. "If lawyers fear taking on 'sensitivecases', especially those involving official misconduct, then the Chinesepeople cannot rely on the law for redress, and officials have carte blancheto act with impunity," said Catherine Baber. "This type of repression ultimatelycan only backfire and undermine public faith in its leaders. "Amnesty International calls onthe government to restore licences to practice to lawyers suspended ordisbarred for defending human rights cases, and for the governance of lawyersto be left to genuinely independent lawyers' associations, as advocatedby international standards and many people in China. "Lawyers themselves must be protected- only then will they be able to exercise their full role in the protectionof human rights and in the creation of a vibrant and, ultimately, justnation," Catherine Baber said.Read MoreAgainstThe Law – Crackdown on China's Human Rights Lawyers Deepens (Report, 30June 2011)Againstthe law: Crackdown on China’s human rights lawyers deepens: Update onselected lawyersChina TeamAmnesty International Secretariat

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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