Beijing Suspends Licenses of 2 Lawyers Who Offered to Defend Tibetans in Court |
By JIM YARDLEY
The New York Times
June 4, 2008
BEIJING Two prominent human rights lawyers have lost their licenses
after volunteering to defend Tibetans charged in the violent
anti-China protests that erupted in March. The decision comes as
Chinese authorities are tightening scrutiny over dissidents in
advance of the Olympics in August.
The two lawyers, Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong, are known for taking
on politically contentious cases, including those alleging official
abuses of human rights. Reached on Tuesday night, Mr. Teng said he
learned last week that judicial authorities had renewed the license
of every lawyer in his firm, except his own.
"Obviously, it is because of the Tibetan letter that I signed and
also other sensitive cases I handled," Mr. Teng said.
Judicial authorities could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. But
human rights groups say the authorities initially considered denying
license renewals for numerous lawyers, only to relent in the cases
other than those of Mr. Teng and Mr. Jiang.
Lawyers are increasingly at the cutting edge of efforts to push
systemic change in China. Self-styled "rights defenders' regard the
law as a tool to expand and protect the rights of individuals in an
authoritarian political system. But the ruling Communist Party is
often wary of lawyers who try to challenge what it regards as the
unassailable pre-eminence of the party in society.
In April, 18 lawyers signed a public letter volunteering free legal
services to Tibetans arrested during an official crackdown against
protests in western China. State media reported that 30 Tibetans,
represented by government-appointed lawyers, were given sentences
from three years to life during trials in April. Mr. Teng said the
judicial authorities were not pleased with the offer of free legal
counsel and later warned the lawyers not to get involved in the
By May, Mr. Teng said, his law firm applied for its standard annual
renewal of licenses. But the firm's licenses were suspended. "They
just informed my boss that I was the reason the whole firm was in
trouble," Mr. Teng said. But on Thursday, the authorities lifted the
suspension and granted renewals for the other 60 or so lawyers in the firm.
Last month, before a final decision had been made on the licenses,
Mr. Jiang said his status was in jeopardy because of his willingness
to handle "sensitive cases." "As a lawyer, I only care about whether
the case can be legally defended," Mr. Jiang told The South China
Morning Post in Hong Kong. "I will follow the right rules within the
law. I don't know how to judge whether a case is sensitive or not."
Zhang Jing contributed research.