Posts Tagged ‘Independence of Lawyers’

Independence of the Legal Profession subject of side event on 16 March 2017

March 9, 2017

Lawyers for Lawyers and The Law Society of England & Wales organize a UN side event on the “The Independence of the Legal Profession” on Thursday 16 March 2017, 3 – 5 pm in Room XXIII of the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Keynote speaker: Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

 

Panelists:

·        Khalid Baghirov, lawyer (Azerbaijan)

·        Ayse Bingol Demir, lawyer (Turkey) [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/23/persecution-of-lawyers-and-journalists-in-turkey-side-event-in-geneva-on-27-january/]

·         Michel Togué, lawyer (Cameroon) [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/02/13/death-threats-against-human-rights-defenders-alice-nkom-and-michel-togue-in-cameroon/]

The panelists will share their experiences, obstacles faced by members of  the legal profession in their respective countries, and possible ways to improve the safety of lawyers who work in challenging contexts.

The event is co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Australia and Paraguay as well as the following NGOs: – Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC),- Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA), – Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), – International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), – Avocats Sans Frontières Suisse (ASF Switzerland), – International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), – Judges for Judges (J4J), – Human Rights House Foundation and- Peace Brigades International (PBI, UK)

To register (for those without passes, until 12 March 2017): S.deGraaf@lawyersforlawyers.nl

For enquiriesRoberta.Taveri@lawsociety.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Bodies of disappeared human rights lawyer Kimani and his client found in Kenya

July 3, 2016

A lawyer, Willie Kimani, his client, Josphat Mwenda and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, were last seen returning from a traffic court hearing at Mavoko Law Courts on 23 June 2016. Many feared that they were abducted. Now, on 1 July 2016 their bodies have been found. Kimani was a lawyer with NGO International Justice Mission in Kenya. Kimani had been representing Mwenda in a case he had brought against the police after he was shot by them during a traffic stop.

Kenyan lawyers held a protest http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000207020/lawyers-stage-protest-outside-ig-boinnet-s-office-over-missing-lawyer-client-and-taxi-driver-civil-societies-condemn-disappearance on 30 June, and petitioned the police inspector general for information regarding the men’s whereabouts.

We are deeply saddened by reports of the murders of Kimani, his client, and his taxi driver, and offer our condolences to their families and colleagues who continue to incur great risk fighting for justice and accountability,” said Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “It’s vital for the future of Kenya that its human rights lawyers are able to operate without fear of violence, and that the killers be swiftly brought to justice.”

Police should not hesitate to interrogate and arrest their own officers when there is cause,” said Namwaya of HRW. “This case stands as a clear threat to the legal profession and all those who push for police accountability in Kenya.”

http://www.hrw.org/africa/kenya

[http://www.knchr.org/Portals/0/PressStatements/Joint%20Press%20Release%20-Disappearance%20of%20Willie%20Kimani%20et%20al.pdf]

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-demands-justice-murder-human-rights-lawyer-kenya

In Somaliland lawyer has to choose: practicing law or human rights!

May 19, 2016

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - croppedreports that on 16 May 2016, human rights defender Mr Guleid Ahmed Jama received notification from the Somaliland Minister of Justice and Judicial Affairs that his licence to practice law had been terminated. Guleid Ahmed Jama [for profile see: https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/guleid-ahmad-jama] is a lawyer and founder of the Human Rights Center, a human rights watchdog organisation in Somaliland.

He only learned about this when he saw on 16 May a letter (dated 10 April!) which was circulated to members of the Somaliland judiciary from the Minister of Justice and Judicial Affairs, Minister Ahmed Farah Adarre, requesting that the judiciary cease to allow Guleid Ahmed Jama to practice law, as his position as chairperson of the HRC and his work as a lawyer are incompatible. [The termination of the licence by the Minister of Justice is unprecedented as the duty of licensing permissions falls within the mandate of the Advocates Licensing and Disciplining Commission.]

Earlier harassment against him occurred in April 2015 when he was arrested, charged and detained in Hargeisa while working in his capacity as a lawyer at Hargeisa Regional Court. He was accused of ‘subversive or anti-national propaganda’, ‘instigation to disobey the laws’, ‘intimidation of the public’ and ‘publication or circulation of false, exaggerated and tendentious news capable of disturbing public order’. According to the Office of the Attorney General, the human rights defender had allegedly committed these offences through his work at the HRC. This case was later closed. <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-guleid-ahmed-jama>

Seems to me to be a good case for (international) lawyers organizations.

See also: https://www.defenddefenders.org/2016/05/somaliland-minister-justice-revokes-license-human-rights-lawyer/

 

 

Turkey: really the place for a fair trial?

March 20, 2016

All the attention is on Turkey as the country where refugees will have to be processed. The more the question of fair trial becomes important. The following does not bode well:

In the early morning of 16 March 2016, police raided the houses of 9 lawyers in Istanbul, Turkey. After the search, lawyers Ramazan Demir, İrfan Arasan, Ayşe Acinikli, Hüseyin Boğatekin, Şefik Çelik, Adem Çalışçı, Ayşe Başar, Tamer Doğan and Mustafa Rüzgar were taken into custody. They are all members of the Libertarian Lawyers Association ÖHD). There has not been given any justification for these arrests and searches. The case file on the arrests is confidential. Allegedly the lawyers are arrested on suspicion of having ties with a terrorist organization. All the lawyers that were arrested represent the 46 lawyers who were arrested in 2011 on suspicion of “working for, or belonging to, a terrorist organization”. A hearing in the trial against these lawyers took place only one day after the arrests (!), on 17 March 2016. The arrest of their lawyers means that they are deprived from their legal defense.

Lawyers for Lawyers and Fair Trial Watch are extremely worried about the state of the rule of law in Turkey, which is quickly deteriorating. They sent a letter to the Turkish authorities in which they urge them to:
–     Immediately release lawyers and drop the criminal investigation;L4L logo
–     Abstain from identifying lawyers with their clients or their clients’ causes;
–     Put an end to all forms of harassment against lawyers in Turkey;
–     Guarantee in all circumstances that all lawyers in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals, intimidation, threats and free of all restrictions.
For more information see: http://www.advocatenvooradvocaten.nl/11446/turkey-police-raid-on-and-arrest-of-9-lawyers

Meanwhile on 11 February, 2016 the Human Rights Foundation drew attention to the case of journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, and urges the government of Turkey to drop the arbitrary charges imposed on them. On November 26, Dündar, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Cumhuriyet, and Gül, the Ankara bureau chief, were arrested based on a criminal complaint filed against them by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The complaint stems from a report published in Cumhuriyet on May 29, 2015 with photos and video footage claiming that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization secretly armed Islamist rebel groups in Syria. The two journalists are being held at the high-security Silivri prison west of Istanbul. They are currently awaiting trial and facing up to life in prison.

HRF to Turkey: Free Journalists Can Dündar and Erdem GülSource: Vedat Arik/AP

The rise of authoritarianism in Turkey is blatant. Erdogan’s government crackdown on independent journalists is a step towards exerting dictatorial control over Turkey’s media,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.

https://humanrightsfoundation.org/news/hrf-to-turkey-free-journalists-can-duendar-and-erdem-guel-00516?utm_content=&utm_source=VerticalResponse&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=here&utm_campaign=HRF%20to%20Turkey%3A%20Free%20Journalists%20Can%20Dündar%20and%20Erdem%20Gülcontent

Human Rights Lawyers Disqualified to run for Iran’s Bar Association

February 11, 2016

Not the most egregious of violations but showing how deep the ruling powers’ reach in Iran is: more than two dozen prominent lawyers, including well-known human rights defenders, have been disqualified (again) from running in next month’s election for the Iranian Bar Association’s board of directors. Judge Hosseinali Nayeri, the head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges, issued a statement on 2 February  2016 rejecting 25 of the 141 candidacy applications, according to Kaleme, an opposition website.

The disqualified include human rights lawyers Farideh Gheirat, Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, Ramazan Haji Mashhadi, and former Tehran University law professor, Ghasem Sholeh Sadi. The bar association has only published the names of the approved candidates on its website.

Sholeh Sadi, told the NGO ‘International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran’ that the bar association should operate as an independent body and elections for its board of directors should be conducted without the interference of the judicial system. “Governments want to limit the lawyers’ activities and try to control them,” said the former Member of Parliament who has served time as a political prisoner in Iran.

The independence of lawyers as well as the Iranian Bar Association have been seriously undermined since the passage of a law in 1997 that imposed several limits and controls on the process for testing and licensing new lawyers. In February 2014, some 200 lawyers wrote an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani expressing concern about the Judiciary’s attempts to curb their autonomy. They accused the Judiciary of trying to destroy the independence of the legal profession “established by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh more than 70 years ago.” The Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, denied the charges, claiming that the Judiciary’s supervision over lawyers would not curtail their independence.

For older posts on Iran: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/iran/

Source: Prominent Lawyers Disqualified from Iran’s Bar Association Election

 

Mahfooz Saeed, lawyer of Maldives’ ex-president, stabbed

September 7, 2015

It does not rank as the worst human rights violation in the world but the stabbing of the lawyer of the Maldives’ ex-president is a classic case of attacking the defenders. Wonder why not more lawyers organizations have come out in professional solidarity:
On Friday 4 September lawyer Mahfooz Saeed was stabbed in the islands’ capital, Male, ahead of a visit by his international legal team, including human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.  He underwent emergency surgery and is now in a stable condition. “There were many people who saw the incident. The attackers were also caught on CCTV cameras,” Shauna Aminath, a spokeswoman for the MDP, of which Saeed is also a member, told AFP. The party believes the attack was politically motivated, she said.
Amnesty International condemned the assault and called on the Maldivian government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
This vicious attack must not go unpunished — Maldives authorities must ensure that human rights defenders can work free from fear of reprisals and that those responsible are held to account,” the human rights group said in a statement.
Amal Clooney is due to travel to the Maldives this week to meet with Nasheed. She is part of the legal team along with Jared Genser — who has represented Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi — and Ben Emmerson, a judge on international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/retaliation-now-reaches-even-human-rights-commissioners-in-the-maldives-un-deeply-concerned/

Source: Lawyer for Maldives’ ex-president stabbed in Male | Arab News

L4L seminar looks at 25 Years ‘Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers’

May 21, 2015

Under the title ‘Lawyers are not their clients the Netherlands-based NGO Lawyers for Lawyers [L4L] puts the 25th anniversary of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers in the limelight. On 29 May 2015 the seminar starts with an introduction by Phon van den Biesen, President L4L, and Cees Flinterman, Professor Emeritus of Human Rights (University of Utrecht and Maastricht).

Basic Principle 18 states that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.

In Break-out sessions the following aspects are considered:

  1. Identification in LGBT-cases (Alice Nkom, Cameroon)
  2. Identification in terrorism cases (Magamed Abubakarov, the Russian Federation and Ayse Bingol, Turkey)
  3. Identification in certain human rights cases (Jorge Molano, Colombia)

The plenary discussion concludes with the Award Ceremony for the 2015 L4L award to Jorge Molano (see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/jorge-molano-from-colombia-laureate-of-2015-lawyers-for-lawyers-award/).

Visit www.lawyersforlawyers.org or contact the Executive Director (+31.6 262 743 90).

Human rights lawyers and indigenous people in the Philippines endangered

January 24, 2015

Human rights lawyers and their clients stage a picket at the Supreme Court to mark the ‘Day of the Endangered Lawyer’ (photo courtesy of NUPL)

Human rights lawyers in the Philippines on Friday 23 January 2015 protested publicly against the growing death toll within their ranks as they marked the “Day of the Endangered Lawyer” by trooping to the Supreme Court. The protest spearheaded by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers [NUPL] and joined by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines was joined by lawyers’ and support groups that staged pickets or held dialogues at Philippine embassies and consulates in 23 cities in 11 European countries.

Figures show that, since attacks on legal professionals began being recorded in 1977, “100 lawyers have been attacked (57 since 2001) while 50 lawyers have been killed (41 since 2001).” “Nineteen judges have been murdered, 18 since 2001”

Government must simply do its job: protect its citizens, categorically condemn these attacks on lawyers as human rights defenders; seriously and credibly investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators; and uphold human rights because the attacks on lawyers is not only an attack on the individual lawyer, it is an attack on the legal profession, and most fundamentally — in the context of the targeted assaults on human rights and public interest lawyers — an attack itself on the rights and interests of the mostly poor and oppressed in our country” 

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/103685/a-deadly-profession–human-rights-lawyers-count-the-costs-on-day-of-the-endangered-lawyer

A petition <http://www.advocatenvooradvocaten.nl/wp-content/uploads/Petition-Day-of-Endangerd-Lawyer-2015.pdf> signed by lawyers organizations from Asia, Canada Europe and the United States  calls on the Aquino government  to prevent extrajudicial killings and all forms of harassment of lawyers and to end impunity by prosecuting perpetrators of rights violations. The petition also calls on the Aquino government  to protect the safety of lawyers as provided for in the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1990.  Underlying causes for extrajudicial killings. The practice of labeling (classifying victims as ‘enemies of the state’), the involvement of the military in politics, the proliferation of private armies and vigilante groups and the culture of impunity have been identified by national and international fact-finding bodies as the main root causes for the alarming rate of extrajudicial killings, including the extrajudicial killings of lawyers, in the Philippines.

Away from the capital human rights violations against indigenous people and their human rights defenders also continue as demonstrated in 2 film documentaries:

Gikan sa Ngitngit nga Kinailadman” (From the Dark Depths) records grave rights violations using interviews and recollections of the survivors and witnesses. The cases featured in the film remains unresolved; the perpetrators waiting for the next human rights defender to hunt. The film shows the atrocities of the military and paramilitary troops, including the armed agents of the agro-industrial corporations in the hinterlands of Mindanao.

-The first case presented in the film is the assassination of Gilbert Paborada—a Higaonon farmer in Bagocboc, Opol, Misamis Oriental. Daisy Paborada, the wife of Gilbert, and Joseph Paborada, his brother, reiterates how the struggle of their community against the entry of palm oil plantations of A Brown Company led to Gilbert’s death.

-The film also shows interviews about the harassment of the Lumad community in Opol as they suffer from the goons of A Brown Company. The harassments and intimidation breed the culture of fear and terror among the people who opt to protect their ancestral domain vis-à-vis the environment over money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO taken during the shooting of “Gikan sa Ngitngit nga Kinailadman” in the mountains of Pantaron in Bukidnon. (RMP-NMR)

Dalena is also the director of Alingawngaw ng mga Punglo (Echo of Bullets) that exposed the criminal acts of the military under the infamous General Jovito Palparan, also known as ‘The Butcher.’ Palparan now is in jail, facing allegations of murder against human rights defenders.

Sr. Maria Famita Somogod, regional coordinator of Rmp-Nmr, said the film highlights political repression. The spate of human rights violations featured in the film is the reaction of the government to quell the legitimate dissent of the lumads against the entry of agro-industrial corporations in their ancestral domain. Somogod said the dissent of the lumads and farmers is legitimate. Their demands are to protect their ancestral domain against the encroachment of foreign corporations in the hinterlands. “Instead of seeds, bullets. Instead of food, bombs. Instead of peace, forcible evacuation. Instead of life, death,” Somogod said, adding this is what the ordinary lumads and farmers get for protecting the land of promise.

In the words of the author Anjo Bacarisas, in Sunstar of 25 January: at the end of the film one asks: How should we stop this appalling cruelty against the lumads and farmers?

http://www.sunstar.com.ph/cagayan-de-oro/feature/2015/01/25/underbelly-land-promise-388461

Persecution of Lawyers and Journalists in Turkey: side event in Geneva on 27 January

January 23, 2015

L4L logo Lawyers for Lawyers, the Law Society of England and Wales,  Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Privacy International, Fair Trial Watch and Media Legal Defence Initiative organise  a panel discussion on the “Persecution of Lawyers and Journalists in Turkey” on Tuesday, 27 January, in Geneva, Immediately after the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Turkey,

 At this event fundamental rights of lawyers and journalists that are regularly being violated will be discussed, including freedom of expression, privacy, confidentiality between lawyers and their clients and the protection of sources by journalists. This event comes at a time when the rule of law in Turkey is under serious threat.

[Turkey has adopted new laws and judicial reform packages, allowing for even more internet censorship, data collection, surveillance and the censoring of critical views on the pretence of protecting national security, which are directly undermining the freedom of expression, but also other fundamental rights such as privacy. In particular, journalists and lawyers are negatively impacted. They are subject to surveillance and legal harassment. The last couple of years large groups of lawyers and journalists have been arrested on the suspicion of terrorism related offences. Lawyers face stigmatisation by being continuously identified with their clients’ causes. Journalists are accused of not being independent. For both groups it is hard, if not impossible, to work freely, independently and securely.]

Speakers:

Ayse Bingol – Lawyer from Turkey

Tayfun Ertan – Journalist from Turkey

Marietje Schaake (by Skype) – Member European Parliament

Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion – Privacy International

Tony Fisher – The Law Society of England and Whales

Moderator:  Irma van den Berg – Turkey expert of Lawyers for Lawyers

The event takes place from 12h45 – 14h30 in Room XXIII, Palais des Nations. Those wishing to attend, send email – before 23 January – to : bp[at]lawyersforlawyers.nl

Turkey 27 January in Geneva; side-event Persecution of Lawyers and Journalists in Turkey Lawyers for Lawyers.

The Plight of China’s Human Rights Lawyers Worsened

January 19, 2015

Under the title “The Plight of China’s Rights LawyersFrances Eve, in Chinafile of 16 January 2015, has made an excellent compilation of the travails of the Chinese human rights lawyers in 2014. It was one of the worst years for civil society and human rights defenders in particular.

Pu Zhiqiang, center, pictured in 2011 talking with the media while he was serving as artist Ai Weiwei’s lawyer – Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

At least 9 lawyers either are currently facing criminal charges or began serving prison sentences in 2014: Ding JiaxiPu ZhiqiangQu ZhenhongTang JinglingXia LinXu ZhiyongYu WenshengChang Boyang and Ji Laisong (the last 2 now released). The unprecedented scale of criminal prosecution against rights lawyers sharply contradicts the goal of “governing the country by law,” which was proclaimed at October’s Fourth Plenum meeting. Here the whole piece for those interested:

“As the year came to a close, at least seven prominent Chinese human rights lawyers rang in the New Year from a jail cell. Under President Xi Jinping, 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for China’s embattled civil society. Bookending the year were the cases of two prominent legal advocates: in January, Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years imprisonment for his moderate criticism of government policy and leading the “New Citizens’ Movement,” a group advocating for political reforms in China. Outspoken free speech lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who turns 50 tomorrow, has spent the past six months in detention as authorities continue to build a case against him.

The past year has been distinctly bad for a band of crusading lawyers, who for the past decade or so, since their movement first emerged, have described their mission asweiquan, “safeguarding rights.” According to several Chinese rights lawyers, more members of their ranks—which have grown from just a handful to over 200—are currently in detention than at any time since 2003, when lawyers involved in this kind of work first began to face criminal detention.

Among the first to be arrested was Gao Zhisheng, a feisty and outspoken defender of everyone, from factory workers and peasants to journalists and underground Christian and Falun Gong practitioners, who was sentenced to three years in 2006 on the politically motived charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Suspending his sentence, authorities instead held Gao several times in detention incommunicado—where he was brutally tortured—until 2011, when judges ordered Gao to be sent to prison for “violating” his parole. Gao, who was released into a form of house arrest in August 2014, was a prominent case, yet imprisoning lawyers was still unusual at the time. Since then, rights lawyers who have taken on cases involving politically “sensitive” issues have increasingly faced threats, harassment, administrative punishments, the revocation of their law licenses, and, as in a few widely publicized cases, disappearance and eventorture.

But since President Xi Jinping came to power, the government’s war on rights lawyers has escalated. At least nine prominent lawyers either are currently facing criminal charges or began serving prison sentences in 2014: lawyers Ding JiaxiPu ZhiqiangQu ZhenhongTang JinglingXia LinXu Zhiyong, and Yu Wensheng, as well as Chang Boyang and Ji Laisong who were both released on bail awaiting trial after months in detention. The unprecedented scale of criminal prosecution against rights lawyers sharply contradicts the goal of “governing the country by law,” which was proclaimed at October’s Fourth Plenum meeting, a gathering of senior Chinese Communist Party leaders.

A student leader in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, Pu Zhiqing had gone on to represent several high profile free-speech cases, including an anti-defamation ruling in favor of the magazine China Reform in 2004 and a much heralded defence of the authors of a widely read exposé of rural corruption. More recently, he defended activist artist Ai Weiwei and petitioner Tang Hui—who was sent to a re-education through labor (RTL) camp for petitioning for stronger punishment for her daughter’s rapists—in a case which garnered widespread public sympathy. State media evenfeatured Pu in reports on RTL, an unusual platform for a government critic. But now Pu has been detained on charges of “creating a disturbance” and “illegally obtaining personal information” after attending a seminar in May discussing the June Fourth Massacre. Police later tacked on additional charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “inciting separatism,” reportedly over a blog post Pu had written criticising the government’s version of the Kunming knife attack in March 2014. Lawyer Qu Zhenhong, who initially served as Pu’s lawyer, was arrested in June in connection with his case.

Tang Jingling, arrested after taking part in a commemorative “June Fourth Meditation” last summer, was a lawyer who defended victims of government land grabs, counterfeit medicine, and village corruption until authorities refused to renew his law license in 2006. He then became a “citizen representative,” continuing to give legal assistance, and later a member of a non-violent civil disobedience movement that works on labor rights, the hukou system, and equal education. At the end of the year, Guangzhou police transferred Tang’s case to the local prosecutor, an indication that he may be indicted and tried soon. If convicted, Tang faces a lengthy prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” Meanwhile, his wife has faced harassment forspeaking out on his case.

In November, authorities arrested two lawyers, Yu Wensheng and Xia Lin, after they were hired by families to represent activists detained for expressing support for the protests in Hong Kong. Yu faces a charge of “creating a disturbance” and Xia, a former member of Pu Zhiqiang’s legal team and partner at Pu’s Huayi Law Firm, is accused of committing fraud. Those imprisoned last year include the lawyer Ding Jiaxi, who is serving a 42-month sentence after demanding government transparency and anti-corruption measures with the New Citizens’ Movement, alongside Xu Zhiyong, whose advocacy and election to his district’s People’s Congress made him another former darling of the Chinese press. Xu missed the birth of his daughter while he awaited his January trial.

While incarcerated, these lawyers have all been granted only limited access to their attorneys. The PRC Law on Lawyers (2007) authorizes lawyers to meet with their clients starting on the very day when they are put under detention, as does China’s Criminal Procedure Law. But, according to lawyers and family members of detainees, such provisions are rarely respected on the ground and often overridden by local administrative or Party orders, especially in political cases.

Family members of the jailed lawyers have reason to fear, since rights lawyers are no strangers to torture in detention and police brutality. Tang Jingling told his lawyer he was assaulted at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center, and in an open letter to Xi Jinping Pu Zhiqiang’s wife decried the “inhumane mental and physical torment” her husband has been subjected to at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center. In Heilongjiang province in March, four lawyers were taken into custody and severely beaten after they requested to meet with their clients; according to their family members, the four suffered 24 broken ribs among them. Gao Zhisheng suffered such ill-treatment in prison that he lost almost all his teeth and remains very frail.

China’s leaders are far from governing the country under a system based on the rule of law. Instead, they are paying lip service to the idea in order to give legitimacy to the Communist Party’s rule while building a legal system that serves their political interests. This includes manipulating the criminal justice system to silence dissent and rein in human rights lawyers who push for judicial independence, fair trials, and protection of their clients’ legal rights. Chinese law bars a convicted lawyer from practising law for good. This is at the heart of what makes the currently growing trend of criminalizing rights lawyers particularly troubling.

Allowing lawyers and the judiciary to carry out their work without political interference is a key indicator of a country’s success in promoting rule of law. In November, China’s nominal legislative body, the National People’s Congress, posted online for “public consultation” several amendments to the country’s Criminal Code. Among these draft amendments is Article 35, which would revise the Criminal Law on the disruption of court proceedings by giving authorities overly broad powers to interpret speech in court as insulting, threatening, or disruptive and includes the vague provision prohibiting “anything else that seriously disrupts court proceedings.” The effect of these changes would be to criminalize lawyers’ speech during trials if they challenge the court, punishable by up to three years in prison. More than 500 rights lawyers across China have signed an open letter to the NPC, demanding they drop this amendment as it runs “counter to the direction of judicial reform.”

China’s embattled rights lawyers, however, have refused to be coerced into submission. On the contrary, they are increasingly challenging authorities for failing to practice the respect for the law that they preach. More young lawyers are joining the movement. Trained professionals, they strongly believe that all suspects should be afforded a fair and public trial, and they see no reason why ruling élites should be above the law. Many are paying a heavy price, but see it as a part of the struggle for a “better future.” Facing the charges against him, Pu Zhiqiang is fully aware of what awaits him. As he said to his lawyer from jail: “If we lose, I probably can’t be a lawyer after I get out, so what can I be?”

The Plight of China’s Rights Lawyers | ChinaFile.