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City Bar Urges China to End Abuses of Lawyers

The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to China’s Ministry of Justice expressing its “grave concern with respect to reports over the past several weeks that lawyers in various parts of China have been harassed, beaten, and detained at the hands of agents of the government.”

The letter, addressed to Minister Wu Aiying and signed by City Bar President Samuel W. Seymour, describes numerous recent physical assaults on, and detentions of, lawyers in China. Among them was an incident in which eight defense lawyers were allegedly beaten by court officers of the Daoli District People’s Court in Harbin City, with one of the lawyers, Liu Guiying, suffering injuries so severe she was forced to terminate her pregnancy two days later.  In addition, a number of lawyers were detained by authorities and have not been heard from since.

The letter states, “The lawyers subjected to these attacks and abuses are well-known rights defenders in Beijing and elsewhere who have previously been targeted by authorities for their work on cases that the authorities regard as politically sensitive, such as cases involving religious freedoms, population control, the professional rights of lawyers, and civil society activists. These current incidents follow reports from 2010 of lawyers being harassed and detained, particularly in the aftermath of the announcement that Liu Xiaobo would receive the Nobel Peace Prize.”

The letter expresses particular concern for the situation of lawyers Gao Zhisheng, Jiang Tianyong, Li Tiantian, Tang Jingling, Tang Jitian and Teng Biao, who appear to be in detention without charge. “We ask the Ministry of Justice to seek the immediate release of these individuals,” states the letter.

The letter argues that the abusive treatment of lawyers violates not only international standards such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (which the members of the U.N. General Assembly, including China, adopted without dissent) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Chinese law as well. “Like all other citizens, Chinese lawyers are entitled to the rights and protections articulated in Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, including the rights to free speech, assembly, association and demonstration. Article 37 of the Lawyers Law of the People’s Republic of China specifically protects lawyers in carrying out their professional duties.  Article 37 provides that ‘a lawyer’s right of the person is inviolable’ and affirms that a lawyer should not be legally liable for the opinions he or she presents on behalf of clients,” the letter states.

The letter concludes, “We call upon the Ministry of Justice (i) to investigate the foregoing incidents, (ii) to take immediate steps to end the abuses of lawyers who are carrying out their professional duties, and (iii) to reaffirm the rights afforded Chinese lawyers to practice their profession without governmental interference under domestic and international law.”

The letter may be read here: http://bit.ly/fjBgsA

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