China: Closure of Shengzhi law office a major blow to human rights

The closure comes shortly after the firm’s director sent an open letter to the Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao urging them to end the “barbaric” persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China. It is believed that the closure of the firm is closely linked with this letter.

Shengzhi Law Office is one of a small number of law firms in China which has taken on cases involving human rights issues, and Amnesty International is concerned that this suspension will severely undercut the work of human rights activists in the country.

On 4 November 2005, Gao Zhisheng, director of the firm, received an official notice from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice informing him of the temporary closure of the firm. Reportedly, the official reasons for the closure were the firm's failure to notify the authorities of its change of address and the “illegal” submission of legal documents to a lawyer who does not work for the firm.

The Shengzhi Law Office has recently been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including a land dispute case filed against locally elected officials in Taishi village, Guangdong province, which is seen as a test case for local democracy in China.

The firm has also supported Chen Guangcheng, a self-educated lawyer currently under house arrest in Linyi city, Shandong province, because of his involvement in a class action law suit against local authorities over coercion in implementation of China’s family planning policies, and is involved in the case of Zheng Yichun, a journalist and former professor who was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in September for his on-line writings and who is reportedly appealing his sentence.

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