China Shuts Out 2 Lawyers Over Tibetans' Cases

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

BEIJING, June 3 -- Chinese judicial authorities have in effect disbarred two activist lawyers who offered to defend Tibetans arrested in a recent Chinese security crackdown, lawyers said Tuesday.

The two, Jiang Tianyong and Teng Biao, were denied renewal of the annual licenses necessary to practice law in China because of what Beijing Judicial Bureau officials described as a willingness to take on "sensitive" cases such as those involving charges of human rights abuses by the government, Jiang said.

The decision was consistent with a broad security tightening in recent months in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in August. Authorities have shown particular sensitivity about Tibet, which is still closed to foreign tourists and reporters, and Xinjiang, where the Public Security Bureau has accused Muslim separatists of plotting terrorist attacks to disrupt the games.

Jiang and Teng were among 18 Chinese lawyers with a record of human rights activism who signed an open letter offering legal help to Tibetans arrested after riots erupted March 14 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and quickly spread to a number of other Tibetan-inhabited areas of the country.

Responding to the riots, Chinese security forces arrested a large number of Tibetans on such crimes as arson and inciting subversion of state authority. Scores have been jailed since then and many more forced to undergo what are called patriotic education courses, designed to promote loyalty to the Chinese government and discourage Tibetan nationalism.

Human Rights in China, the U.S.-based advocacy group, denounced the bureau's decision against the two lawyers as an attempt by the Chinese government to discourage lawyers from representing people who have human rights complaints. China cannot claim to enjoy rule of law unless lawyers are genuinely allowed to defend those accused of crimes, the group said.

"The targeting of lawyers who take cases deemed sensitive by the authorities makes a mockery of rule of law and newly effective amendments to the Lawyers Law, which claims to protect the practice of law by lawyers," Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said in a statement. "The politicized use of the annual registration system undercuts a critical component of any rule of law: independent and professional lawyers doing their jobs."

Li Xiongbing, a lawyer along with Jiang at the Gaobo Longhua law firm in Beijing, said almost all those who signed the letter offering help to Tibetans had trouble getting their licenses renewed before the Sunday deadline. Five already had lost their licenses because of previous run-ins with judicial authorities, he said, and most of the others received their renewal only at the last minute. Li said he got his renewal Thursday.

Jiang said that after the letter was issued, authorities told his law firm to "strengthen internal management." That, Jiang said, meant that the firm should control the lawyers more and steer them away from such human rights cases.

"The Judicial Bureau wanted us to make promises like not to take sensitive cases and not accept media interviews, especially foreign media," he said. "I just couldn't agree to that. To ask me to cede some of my rights and not be a lawyer and defend other people's rights, this is not possible for me."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company