China: Shandong lawyer under pressure
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||21 September 2012|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, China: Shandong lawyer under pressure, 21 September 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5069a8e723.html [accessed 28 April 2015]|
Chinese authorities harass a lawyer for defending farmers' land rights.
Authorities sent four men to Shu's office in Jinan over his land compensation cases, April 1, 2011. Photo courtesy of Shu Xiangxin
Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have revoked, for "fraud," the business license of a lawyer who helped local rural communities defend their property rights.
However, a former client of Jinan-based rights lawyer Shu Xiangxin said she was approached by local officials who asked her to forge documents in support of the fraud claims.
"Officials from the local government came to talk to me," said a Shandong rural resident surnamed Yang, for whom Shu had helped to win a compensation lawsuit after the authorities took away her land.
"They wanted me to make fake documents to make it look as if the lawyer had tried to defraud the government," she said. "They said they would give me money."
"I told them there was no way I was going to make fake evidence for them, and I wouldn't be bought," Yang added.
Shu said he had been told of the allegations against him on Thursday, after his license to practice as a lawyer was confiscated by the judicial bureau of the Jinan municipal government.
"The city government said I would have to wait until the police had finished their investigation into the allegations of fraud against me," Shu said. "Only then would they accept an application [to renew my license]."
But he added: "The police have been dragging this out for a while now. They have no evidence whatsoever, but they won't detain me or drop the case. I am being kicked around from department to department like a football."
China frequently withholds the licenses of lawyers who represent "sensitive" and disadvantaged groups, often evictees, farmers who have had their land requisitioned by local governments, or families suing for compensation over a string of food and product safety issues in recent years, including the melamine-tainted milk scandal.
Chinese lawyers have to show a valid business license before gaining access to court documents or clients in custody.
Shu's problems emerged after Yang's successful lawsuit prompted a wave of other attempted lawsuits by families in the same situation.
"Quite a few officials have been to see me," he said. "They told me that if I stopped taking on rural [land compensation] cases, they would pay me a fee as a legal adviser."
"After that, [Yang's local] politics and legal affairs secretary wrote to the Jinan judicial affairs bureau to complain about me, and the provincial government ordered the fraud charges against me to be pursued," he said.
Last year, China instituted a clampdown on its embattled legal profession, with many civil rights law firms struggling to renew their licenses.
According to a 2011 report from Amnesty International, the Chinese government unleashed an uncompromising series of measures intended to rein in the legal profession and suppress lawyers pursuing human rights cases in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Rights groups say there is little purpose to the annual licensing scheme, besides the exertion of state control over the legal profession. New rules introduced in the past two years ban lawyers from defending certain clients, and leave them vulnerable to being charged themselves with subversion if they defend sensitive cases.
Out of more than 204,000 lawyers in China, only a few hundred risk taking on cases that deal with human rights, according to Amnesty International.
The clients most likely to get a lawyer in trouble are practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, Tibetan or Uyghur dissidents or protesters, victims of forced evictions, or those who challenge the government's response to natural disasters or food safety issues, the group said.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.