HONG KONG--In Beijing's latest move against human rights lawyers, Chinese authorities announced Friday that they had disbarred two prominent human rights lawyers, Tang Jitian and Liu Wei, for procedural infractions during their defense of a Falun Gong practitioner in a trial last year.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice informed Tang and Liu of their disbarment Friday and posted the decisions on its Web site, explaining that the lawyers’ licenses were revoked for “disrupting court order and interfering with the normal conduct of litigation activities,” a violation of China’s Law on Lawyers.
Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights in China, said in a statement that the decision “makes a mockery of justice and the rule of law.”
Tang said that both of the lawyers intend to appeal the decisions. Tang told Human Rights in China, “We will exhaust all legal avenues to fight, to pursue our appeal.”
Their situation is unusual, as lawyers typically have their licenses revoked only after a criminal conviction, not after an administrative hearing.
Human Rights Defense
The decisions resulted from a complaint by a court in Luzhou, Sichuan province, where Tang and Liu defended Falun Gong practitioner Yang Ming in his appeal in a trial in April of last year.
During the trial, the presiding judge frequently interrupted the lawyers while they were trying to present their defense, Tang and Liu said. They also said that the judge allowed an unidentified observer to film the proceedings, in violation of court rules.
Tang and Liu decided to walk out of the courtroom after determining that they were unable to present their defense, and submitted a written defense instead, they told Human Rights in China.
The court rejected Yang’s appeal of his conviction for “using an evil cult to destroy implementation of the law,” and Yang is currently serving his five-year sentence, according to Human Rights in China. The Chinese government officially considers the Falun Gong spiritual movement an illegal, “evil cult.”
The decision to revoke the two lawyers' licenses came after an April 22 hearing on their conduct during Yang’s trial.
In the hearing, Tang and Liu argued that it was not they who disrupted the trial, but the judge, they said.
Amnesty International condemned the hearing as “absurd.” Around 500 people protested outside the hearing, and police detained nearly 20 protesters, according to Amnesty International.
Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers
The revocation of the lawyers' licenses may have come as part of a wider crackdown on human rights lawyers.
In early 2009, Tang and Liu were among a group of lawyers who filed a complaint against Beijing government offices over newly instituted fees for lawyers’ annual license registration, complaining that the new fees were “blackmailing and extortion.”
In May 2009, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice refused to renew the licenses of over 50 lawyers, including Tang and Liu. But until this week Tang and Liu had avoided having their licenses permanently revoked.
Teng Biao, a legal scholar who represented Tang and Liu at the hearing, called the revocation of the licenses “an act of revenge taken by the judicial bureau.”
Written for the Web in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.