Key attorney for Uyghur Christian among those effectively disbarred.
DUBLIN, June 11 (Compass Direct News) – Li Dunyong, one of several lawyers involved in the defense of Uyghur house church Christian Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was effectively disbarred at the end of May when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license.
Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate.
Authorities failed to renew licenses for at least 15 other lawyers who had defended civil rights cases, religious and ethnic minorities and political dissidents, according to watch group Human Rights in China (HRIC).
During a process of “Annual Inspection and Registration” for all lawyers and law firms, with a closing date of May 31 for renewal applications, authorities also denied three law firms the necessary approval to practice. Officials harassed and physically abused several of the affected lawyers in the months prior to the loss of their licenses.
The lawyers can technically appeal this decision or re-apply at a later date, but most see this as a clear warning to avoid handling sensitive cases.
“The process of building a country ruled by law has suffered a serious setback,” HRIC claimed in a statement on June 4.
The rejection of applications followed the Feb. 4 disappearance of Gao Zhisheng, a high-profile Christian human rights activist who once said that every human rights lawyer would eventually become a human rights case. Gao’s whereabouts remained unknown at press time. (See “Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist,” March 25.)
Lawyer Li had planned to visit Alimjan in northwest China early this month, but recent events have forced the legal team to reconsider its defense strategy.
Alimjan, a member of the troubled Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province, remains in arbitrary detention awaiting trial, 16 months after his arrest. Officials initially closed the foreign-owned business Alimjan worked for in September 2007 and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity.” He was then detained in January 2008 on charges of endangering state security and was formally arrested on Feb. 20, 2008 on charges of “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets.
Court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence. Last May 21, government sources told Alimjan’s mother that the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Kashgar planned to quietly sentence him to three years of re-education through labor, thereby circumventing the court system.
Under Chinese law the PSB, which originally filed the case against Alimjan, may authorize such sentences without approval from the court or other state agencies.
The case was returned to court for consideration last October, but at press time there was no indication of another date for a court hearing.
Li petitioned for and was granted permission for a rare meeting with his client on April 21 after witnesses saw police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to a hospital on March 30; Compass sources said Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why. When Li questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not allowed to speak about his health.
The beating followed a previous meeting with his lawyer – only the second of such visits permitted during his detention – on March 24.
Human Rights Advocates Threatened
On April 13, China’s State Council released a new “National Human Rights Action Plan” that focused heavily on protecting the rights of prisoners and included a pledge to abolish torture and other forms of abuse within two years.
Issued at least partially in response to a United Nations review of China’s rights record in February, the plan also affirmed the right of prisoners to hire and meet with lawyers and to report abuses in writing to the appropriate authorities.
Contrary to such promises, however, the detention and physical abuse of lawyers has multiplied in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for HRW, maintains that control over the yearly renewal of licenses remains one of the main obstacles to the independence of China’s legal profession.
Authorities placed several human rights lawyers under house arrest or heavy surveillance in the first week of June as China marked the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. According to HRIC, policemen seized one of the 15 temporarily disbarred lawyers, Tang Jitian, from his home early on the morning of June 4; they had already detained him for 10 hours the previous day.
“This is a display of meticulously planned suppression of lawyers who enforce and uphold the law and are dedicated to public interests,” Tang told HRIC.
One lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, said officers barred him from leaving his home on June 3 and told him, “Think of your wife and child.” Jiang is among those whose licenses were not renewed.
In late May, HRW reported that Beijing authorities had pressured several legal firms not to endorse the renewal applications of members who had defended civil rights cases.
Report from Compass Direct News