China imposes sweeping new restrictions on lawyers

Beijing (dpa) – Human rights organisations are alarmed at new directives for lawyers in China which they said will make them shy away from important cases.

The right groups said that the new rules are effectively a gag on lawyers.

The Chinese Ministry of Justice’s new directives for the country’s lawyers came into effect on Tuesday, in what analysts call an escalation of a government campaign to gag rights lawyers.

According to two amended regulations, lawyers will be prohibited from expressing any opinions that “reject the fundamental political system” of China or that “endanger national security.”

Lawyers will be barred from “inciting” or “organising” their clients and others to participate in sit-ins or demonstrations, even if those gatherings are peaceful.

“The new Justice Ministry rules basically tell human rights lawyers that their successful legal tactics are now prohibited.

“People’s rights can’t be robustly defended when their lawyers can’t draw attention to, or even publicly discuss, their cases,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, said.

Susan Finder, distinguished scholar in residence at the Peking University School of Transnational Law, said the regulations may affect all lawyers and firms in China, including those that handle only commercial cases.

“The move aims to warn lawyers not to take up human rights cases,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International.

He said that the amendments will require lawyers to “support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” and to establish party branches in law firms.

Last summer, authorities carried out a campaign that specifically targeted human rights lawyers and activists in China.

Of the nearly 250 rights lawyers and activists who have been detained or summoned by Chinese police since July 2015, about 10 are believed to still be in jail, according to Amnesty International.

The director of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, Zhou Shifeng, whose company was known for taking on politically sensitive cases, was given a seven-year prison sentence in August.

At least six other lawyers await trial, and the whereabouts of Wang Yu, one of the Fengrui’s lawyers, remains unknown after she was released on bail in August.

In September, lawyer Xia Lin, who represented high-profile clients including the outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, was jailed for 12 years on fraud charges.

His supporters say the case was another example of retaliation against a human rights advocate, who had challenged the government.

However, Xia is expected to appeal.

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