The Chinese government has implemented measures aimed at suppressing lawyers pursuing human rights cases [press release], Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Thursday. The report, entitled "Against the Law: Crackdown on China's Human Rights Lawyers Deepens," presents evidence that human rights lawyers have increasingly had their licenses revoked or suspended and have faced harassment and torture in some cases. The government has reportedly targeted lawyers who take on land rights conflicts and freedom of religion and expression issues. Chinese lawyers and law firms undergo "annual assessments" which, the government claims, are conducted by independent lawyers associations. AI contends, however, that the lawyers defending human rights disproportionately fail the assessment and expressed general concern with the treatment of human rights lawyers in China:
Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the developments described in this report. These show that the Chinese authorities are not only failing to ensure protection for human rights lawyers and others seeking to provide legal services, but are actively undermining their work through legislative, administrative, and practical measures. If lawyers and legal workers are rendered incapable of challenging human rights violations committed by those acting in an official capacity, there can be no effective protection of human rights in China.The report included recommendations for the Chinese government, including calls to end the harassment and persecution of lawyers, recognize that lawyers are independent of the state, abolish the annual assessment and review current domestic legislation in order to "eliminate the obstructions they impose on the work of lawyers in order to fully implement international standards on the role of lawyers."
The 2011 report is an update to AI's 2009 report [text, PDF] also evaluating China's rule of law and the treatment of legal professionals. China has had a well-known struggle with international criticism of its human rights record [JURIST news archive]. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] declared in a report [text; JURIST report] that China has failed to achieve the goals it set out in its first national human rights plan. In May 2010, two Chinese human rights lawyers who have represented Falun Gong [group website; BBC backgrounder] defendants were permanently disbarred [Tang decision, Liu decision, in Chinese; JURIST report] after being accused of disrupting courtrooms. AI criticized the disbarment hearing [press release] calling it "absurd" and claiming that "[g]overnment authorities in China continue to harass and disrupt the work of lawyers taking politically sensitive cases." In April 2009, the Information Office of the State Council [official website] published the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (NHRAP) [JURIST report], which aimed to protect ethnic minorities, promote gender equality, guarantee suspects the right to an impartial trial, and prohibit illegal detentions and the use of torture to extract confessions from suspects. In February 2009, the Chinese delegation to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] defended [JURIST report] China's human rights record while presenting a report [text, PDF] in compliance with the UNHRC's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) [official website] process. Ambassador Li Baodong said that China has been taking steps to improve its legal system, promote democracy, and encourage non-governmental organizations.