Chinese Lawyers to Boycott Annual Business 'Check'


2015.03.17
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china-tiananmen-seminar-may-2014.jpg Pu Zhiqiang (front right) attends a seminar about the Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing, May 3, 2014.
Photo courtesy of CHRD

Dozens of top Chinese lawyers have announced a boycott of the annual review of their licenses by the authorities, saying the practice is illegal, and amounts to political control over the country's embattled legal profession.

At least 38 lawyers from Beijing, Sichuan, Guangxi, Guangdong and Shandong signed a declaration at the weekend calling for an end to the annual license review process, which they say contravenes Chinese law.

"The annual review to which lawyers and law firms are subjected by judicial authorities at every level are in fact a breach of Articles 23 and 24 of the Lawyers' Law," the declaration, dated Sunday, said.

"This is a case of the government breaking the law," said the statement, which was addressed to China's cabinet, the State Council, the ministry of justice, the National People's Congress and the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Annual renewal stamp

Individual attorneys and law firms are required to present an account of their doings to the government, which awards them with an annual stamp renewing their license to practice for the next year, the statement said.

"Actually, they are colluding with the judiciary and the executive in breaking the law, and taking part in the undermining of the correct implementation of the law," the declaration said.

One of the co-writers the declaration, Cheng Hai, said he had signed after his livelihood was taken away from him for one year because the authorities refused to stamp his business license.

"The new rules requiring an annual review ... came out in 2007 ... and they have turned into a form of administrative permission," Cheng said.

"In 2010, the name was changed to annual check ... requiring an official seal, and this has now come to mean that lawyers' business licenses are invalid without this annual check," he said.

He said China's Lawyers' Law places responsibility for annual reviews with law firms, not with the administration.

"If lawyers comply with this annual check, then they are in breach of the Lawyers' Law, so under such circumstances the only choice we have is to uphold the law," Cheng said.

Sensitive cases the target?

Fujian-based rights lawyer Zou Lihui said he has been prevented from working effectively by failed annual checks for the past four years.

"If I go to a detention center, I will often run into difficulties, or sometimes I can get ejected from court by the authorities there," Zou said.

"The annual check is [aimed at] preventing lawyers from taking on sensitive cases," he said. "It is also often used as a form of revenge against individuals."

"If a lawyer doesn't do as they are told, or runs into conflict with a local official, then they have him or her by the throat," Zou said.

Last January, authorities in the northern province of Hebei confiscated the business license of prominent human rights lawyer Wang Yu after she complained that police had forced a confession from her client in a police-run detention center.

China's embattled legal profession ended last year with at least seven prominent rights attorneys behind bars, in one of its worst years since its resurgence in the 1980s, according to a recent report from the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group.

This week's boycott comes after dozens of prominent rights lawyers signed an open letter last December calling on the government to uphold the rights and freedoms enshrined in the country's constitution.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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