2 Falun Gong Lawyers Face Permanent Disbarment

Beijing, China - Two Chinese lawyers who represented a follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement could have their licenses permanently revoked in an administrative hearing on Thursday. The action against the lawyers is the latest move in an increasingly harsh government crackdown on lawyers who take on human rights cases.

The lawyers, Tang Jitian and Liu Wei, said in a written statement that they were accused by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice of having “disrupted the order of the court and interfered with the regular litigation process.” The charge against the lawyers is based on accusations from the Luzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court of Sichuan Province, where the lawyers defended Wang Ming, the Falun Gong practitioner, nearly a year ago.

Lawyers in China are usually barred from practicing for life only if they are convicted of a crime. If Mr. Tang and Ms. Liu have their licenses permanently revoked, then this would be a rare occasion, perhaps the first of its kind, when a disruption-of-court charge has led to such harsh punishment, said Eva Pils, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The two lawyers said in their written statement that the justice bureau’s charge “is obviously factually unsound and lacks legal basis.” The lawyers said it was in fact the judge in the court in Sichuan who was a disruptive element during the trial on April 27, 2009. The judge, Li Xudong, interrupted statements made by the defense lawyers or by Mr. Wang, the lawyers said, “so that the defense was extremely difficult to carry out.” The judge also allowed people to film the lawyers in the courtroom, even though this is usually prohibited.

“As an organ with public power, the Luzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court should examine its own unlawful acts,” the lawyers said.

The Chinese government has been relentless about quashing any defense of Falun Gong, which is considered one of the most sensitive topics in China, along with independence for Tibet and Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. The movement was banned as an “evil cult” in 1999 after followers staged a silent protest at the Chinese leadership’s compound in Beijing. Since then, practitioners have been subjected to imprisonment and torture.

The government has been clamping down on rights lawyers over the past year. In July 2009, the Beijing authorities, citing tax issues, shut down the office of Gongmeng, also known as the Open Constitution Initiative, a prominent legal research organization.

In May 2009, the licenses of 53 lawyers in Beijing were not renewed, making it impossible for the lawyers to work legally. Mr. Tang and Ms. Liu, who were among them, still have not received the proper stamp that would allow them to resume practicing but have so far managed to avoid having their licenses permanently revoked.

Last month, Gao Zhisheng, an outspoken rights lawyer who had defended Falun Gong practitioners, resurfaced at a Buddhist monastery after being held in custody for a year. He said in news interviews that he wanted to lead a quiet life for now. Last year, Mr. Gao’s wife and two young children fled to the United States a month before Mr. Gao was detained. Previously, Mr. Gao had had his law license permanently revoked after being convicted on a charge of subversion and being sent to prison.

Human Rights in China, an advocacy group, called on the Chinese authorities to conduct a fair investigation of what took place in the Sichuan court during Mr. Yang’s trial.

“Instead of the progressive strangulation of rights defense work, the Chinese authorities need to demonstrate their commitment to respect the professionalism and independence of the legal profession, a critical requirement for a true rule of law,” said Sharon Hom, the group’s executive director.