On 12 April 2010, Beijing lawyers Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Liu Wei (刘巍) received a notice from the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau informing them that an administrative punishment to permanently revoke their legal practice licenses, on the grounds that they had disturbed the order of the court while defending a Falun Gong practitioner, will be imposed on them. We, the undersigned organizations and professional associations, fear that Mr. Tang and Ms. Liu have been targeted because of their representation of clients unpopular with the Chinese government. Targeting lawyers in retaliation for activities undertaken as part of their professional duties violates Chinese law and international standards.
Citing Article 49(1), Clause 6, of the PRC Law on Lawyers, the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau ordered the revocation of Tang’s and Liu’s licenses, accusing them of “disturbing the order of the court and interfering with normal litigation” during the trial of a case on 27 April 2009, in Luzhou City (泸州), Sichuan Province (四川省), involving a Falun Gong practitioner accused of “using a cult organisation to undermine the implementation of the laws of the state” (利用邪教组织破坏国家法律实施罪).
According to the two lawyers, the presiding judge interrupted them more than ten times during the presentation of their defense statements for the accused Falun Gong practitioner during the 27 April 2009, trial at the Luzhou City Intermediate Court.
According to Tang and Liu, the presiding judge also ignored the lawyers’ requests to stop a person sitting in the public gallery from video-recording the court proceedings. The two lawyers, therefore, felt unable to continue their defense for their clients, noting that the “Court Rules of the People’s Courts of the People’s Republic of China” (《人民法院法庭规则》) had been contravened. Article 9, Clause 1, of the Court Rules states “Members of the public sitting in the public gallery must respect the following requirements of discipline, they must not make audio-recordings or video-recordings or take pictures.”
According to Article 36 of the PRC Law on Lawyers, “The defense statements of a lawyer appointed as a legal representative or criminal defense lawyer and his right to engage in criminal defense are safeguarded in accordance with the law.” Article 37 (Clauses 1 and 2) continues “the personal rights of a lawyer engaged in practicing law shall not be infringed upon. The representation and defense statements presented in court by a lawyer shall not be subject to legal prosecution, except for statements that compromise national security, maliciously defame others, or seriously disrupt the court order.” International principles similarly protect the rights of lawyers to discharge their professional responsibilities. Article 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990) similarly requires “(g)overnments [to] ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; …and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”
During the Luzhou trial, the presiding judge failed to protect Tang’s and Liu’s rights to provide a criminal defense by repeatedly interrupting them, and by neglecting to prevent a person recording the court proceedings, in violation of Court Rules. It was under this duress that Tang and Liu chose to leave the proceedings.
We, the undersigned organizations and professional associations are deeply concerned about the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau’s intent to revoke Tang’s and Liu’s licenses to practice and call for an investigation into why this sanction is being imposed. The decision to revoke these lawyers’ licenses in the context of a trial during which they were unable to do their jobs appears to be politically motivated. Targeting lawyers who take on politically unpopular cases not only violates the domestic legal standards but also international laws and principles.
We remain concerned about restrictions imposed on other lawyers in recent months. In 2009, Beijing lawyer Jiang Tianyong’s (江天勇) legal practice license was suspended, and as of April 2010, at least six Beijing lawyers have still not had their licenses renewed following the annual inspection of lawyers’ licenses in mid-2009. The threat to permanently revoke Tang Jitian’s and Liu Wei’s licenses to practice law and the passage in April 2010 of new rules providing for administrative punishment of lawyers and law firms that include broad and vague new provisions appears to represent further efforts to restrict the independence of the legal profession in China, and undermines China’s commitment to the rule of law.
[Listed in alphabetical order]
China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group
Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers
The Committee for Human Rights Protection of Taipei Bar Association