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China officials shut down rights group's legal research center

[JURIST] Chinese officials from Beijing's Civil Affairs Bureau on Friday shut down [press release, in Chinese] the legal research center of the Gongmeng [advocacy website, in Chinese] human rights group. Officials confiscated computers and other equipment, telling staff that the center was not properly registered [AP report]. A lawyer for Gongmeng said that the research center was part of Gongmeng, which is properly registered. A statement from Gongmeng called the Civil Affairs Bureau's actions "illegal." Also this week, the Chinese government suspended the licenses of 53 lawyers [press release, in Chinese] in Beijing, including prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, for failing to pass an assessment or failing to register. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] condemned the action, saying:

There are only a tiny group of lawyers left in China who are brave enough to take the risk of representing victims of human rights violations. A further crackdown against human rights lawyers is a major blow not only to these legal professionals but to the human rights defence [sic] movement in China.

These two actions are viewed by many human rights activists as an attempt by the Chinese government to quash dissidence [Reuters report] as the 60th anniversary of Communist rule approaches in October.

Gongmeng has recently gained notoriety by representing the families of children who were sickened by tainted milk [JURIST news archive]. In January, lawyers for the families of 213 Chinese children sickened or killed by melamine-contaminated milk petitioned the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese], China's highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition seeks more than $5 million in compensation [Shanghai Daily report] from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in a government-sanctioned payout plan [JURIST report]. News of possible milk powder contamination by the chemical melamine first broke in September [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders. The Chinese Health Ministry has attributed the deaths of six children to the contamination, and at least 294,000 other children have been affected.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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