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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
   Tibetan situation.
   
   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.

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