This article was first published in China Change website on December 4, 2019
On November 21, the Guangzhou Lawyers Association gathered a meeting of all law firm directors, and disseminated the following orders issued “from higher authorities.” These law firm directors were required to then pass on the following points to all the lawyers they employ. From that day [Nov 21] through December 15, inappropriate remarks are not allowed, and lawyers and the directors of their law firms would be punished for any violations of the following:
- Lawyers are not permitted to express opinions different from those of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the Hong Kong issue;
- Lawyers must maintain discipline, and even trivial matters of everyday life must be brought under moral supervision;
- If you read Xi Jinping’s quotations, join the Party, set up a Party branch in your law firm and follow the Party’s policies, then you could obtain work providing legal advice to government entities, and many other benefits.
- Being a lawyer in China means that your livelihood depends on the Party, so you must obey the Party. The basic conditions for being a lawyer are to love the Party and socialism.
- Those Chinese lawyers who like the American judicial system should just scram and go practice in the United States.
A few days ago, someone photographed a Guangzhou municipal worker, working mid-air removing the sign of a law firm in a residential building. Perhaps a law firm set up shop in a residential building, in the midst of laundry and flower pots hanging on the balconies, and this was considered to be undignified by the Party?
It’s all because, on December 9-10, the Chinese government will convene the “Global Lawyers Forum” (shijie lüshi dahui / 世界律师大会) in Guangzhou. The government has invited, according to its official website, “more than 600 important international guests from governments, judicial departments, financial circles, international lawyers’ associations, other bar associations, and well-known law firms, etc.”
It should be immediately noted that the Chinese name of this “Global Lawyers Forum” is misleading. Instead of “quanqiu lüshi luntan”/ 全球律师论坛,” its Chinese name could easily give the impression that this is something comparable to the “World Bar Conference,” which is also translated into Chinese as shijie lüshi dahui. We believe this is a deliberate choice on the part of the Chinese government hosting this conference. The International Bar Association’s website does not include this gathering on its list of upcoming international lawyers’ meetings, so this meeting in Guangzhou appears to be China’s own “World Bar Conference.”
According to the official WeChat account of Global Lawyers Forum (GLF), this meeting is “a grand gathering of the world’s legal profession sponsored by the All China Lawyers Association under the guidance and support of the P.R.C.’s Ministry of Justice. Its aim is to uphold the rule of law spirit of building a community of shared future for humanity, create an international platform for lawyers from all countries for exchange and cooperation, further consolidate the consensus of the international legal profession, guide lawyers from various countries to actively participate in the reform of the global governance system, build a more comprehensive global legal partnership network, and jointly promote the construction of the world’s rule of law civilization.”
Enough verbiage. We know that since July 2015, the PRC Ministry of Justice, judicial bureaus at all levels, and the political police have worked together to suppress Chinese human rights lawyers on a large scale, creating the “709 incident” that shocked the world. Dozens of lawyers and citizens were secretly detained, tortured and sentenced. To this day, many lawyers, including Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Yu Wensheng (余文生), Chen Wuquan (陈武权), Chen Jiahong (陈家鸿), Qin Yongpei (覃永沛), and others are in prison. Lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) was disappeared on August 13, 2017, and his whereabouts still are unknown. Lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), who was released from prison earlier this year, has since been under illegal house arrest, guarded 24/7 by twenty-some people around his house, without the freedom to travel, or even to go to the hospital to see a doctor. Using “guilt by association,” the Chinese government has also persecuted lawyers by preventing their children from attending school; and has punished human rights lawyers by not allowing them to leave the country on business or for personal vacations.
Since 2017, in Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha, Guilin, and other cities, the Chinese judicial bureaus, working with the Lawyers Associations, have used absurd and fabricated reasons to revoke the licenses of more than 20 human rights lawyers. Those who have been able to retain their lawyers’ qualifications are subject to significant restrictions and often harassed by judicial officers and the political police.
We have asked a number of Chinese human rights lawyers to express their views on this “Global Lawyers Forum.”
Regarding the purpose of the assembly
“If there is such a thing as ‘a shared destiny of mankind,’ as a human rights lawyer, I believe that it should be based on universal values –– that is, democracy and the rule of law, and the respect and protection of human rights. If the purpose of the conference, as the government claims, is to “consolidate the international consensus of the lawyers’ profession,” what then is the consensus of the legal profession? It is the UN’s “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.” Domestic law should be amended on the basis of these principles. (Liu Shuqing, Jinan, deprived of his lawyer’s license in 2016)
“I believe that the Chinese authorities are convening the so-called Global Lawyers Forum to repair its international image following the 709 Crackdown on human rights lawyers. I heard that the President of the International Bar Association, Mr. Horacio Bernardes Neto, will attend and give a keynote speech; so will the President of the Council of Bar and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and the President of the All India Bar Association. I want to ask these distinguished guests to learn about lawyers’ plight in China and compare it to the World Bar Association’s Edinburgh Declaration in 2016. I also want to ask the Chinese government: If you are to convene such a global lawyers’ gathering, do you intend to respect this Declaration?” (Wang Yu, Beijing, first 709 detainees, recipient of the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2016, and recipient of the inaugural International Human Rights Award by American Bar Association in 2016.)
“This rhetoric can be deceptive domestically and internationally, giving those who don’t know the true nature of the CCP and the reality on the ground the wrong impression that China has rule of law, so much so that it is a world leader in the area.” (Jiang Tianyong, Beijing, 709 detainees, and still under house arrest since his release at the end of February 2019.)
“A country that has not yet ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and wantonly violates the rights of lawyers is not qualified to host such an event, let alone prescribe actions for lawyers and even the entire legal profession.” (Tang Jitian, Beijing, whose lawyer’s license was revoked in 2009).
“As a former lawyer, my judgment of the prospects for Chinese lawyers is completely at odds with the magnificent vision constructed by the pretty words of the Global Lawyers Forum. At a minimum, it’s not on the same track as freedom, the rule of law, human rights, and other universal values generally accepted in the world today.” (Wen Donghai, Changsha, whose lawyer’s license was canceled in 2018.)
“I think it is a ridiculous thing for China to host such an event. As everyone knows, the Chinese government has always opposed constitutional democracy and the rule of law. It disregards human rights and blatantly infringes upon every right of the people. Such a conference is only a cover-up for the CCP.” (A lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous)
“The All China Lawyers’ Association (ACLA) is the same as the Chinese government; it is a part of the government. ACLA contributes little to defending human rights in China, and more often than not it is an accomplice in suppressing human rights. Such a country holding such a conference and urging lawyers from all over the world ‘to jointly promote the rule of law around the world’ –– how could anyone believe this? How could anyone attend and support such a meeting? Are the participants burying their heads in the sand or just being ignorant?” (Liang Xiaojun, Beijing)
“Anyway you look at it –– its name, its organizers, its theme, and the ‘grand’ picture that’s been created –– it’s all fake.” (Xie Yanyi, Beijing, whose license was canceled in 2018)
“Nearly without exception, any Chinese lawyer who has participated in any international exchange meeting, including meetings with Hong Kong and Taiwanese lawyers, has been interrogated and threatened by China’s national security agents or domestic security police after they returned home to the mainland. In such a ‘police state,’ how can there be normal international exchanges?” (Chen Jiangang, Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow 2019, who fled China in the summer after being threatened with “disappearance” by a director of Beijing’s Judicial Bureau)
“The Chinese government has issued a large number of laws, regulations, and directives to limit and intimidate lawyers, requiring lawyers to obey the leadership of the Communist Party and serve the Party’s interest, forbidding lawyers to give media interviews, expressing their opinions about cases they represented, barring lawyers from defending or giving a not-guilty defense for Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, members of Eastern Lightening Church, or clients in some criminal cases.” (Zhu Shengwu, disbarred in 2017 for speaking out for a client sentenced for a speech on social media.)
“The choice to hold the ‘Global Lawyers Forum’ in Guangzhou is ironic in light of the purpose of the gathering. The retrogression of the legal system in China over the past decade and the persecution of lawyers who dare to speak out has reached a shocking point. And the crackdown and persecution of lawyers in Guangzhou are the most severe in the country. Therefore, the selection of Guangzhou for the ‘Global Lawyers Forum’ is an affront to the spirit of rule of law.” (Liu Zhengqing, Guangzhou, license revoked in 2019)
“Just as a country engaging in censorship has no business holding a ‘World Internet Conference,’ similarly, a one-party state where no competition of parties is allowed has no business holding a ‘World Political Parties’ Meeting,’ and a country where the rule of law is merely an empty slogan has no business holding a ‘Global Lawyers Forum.’ (Lu Tingge, Shijiazhuang)
Will you register to attend the Forum?
China Change asked these human rights lawyers if they would register to attend the Global Lawyers Forum. This is what they said:
“There’s absolutely no way I would participate in such a meeting.” (An anonymous lawyer in Beijing)
“I might register to participate.” (Chang Weiping of Xi’an, Wang Yuof Beijing)
“This meeting is a deceptive trick, not worth paying attention to.” (Ren Quanniu, Zhengzhou)
“They decide who can go. They want lawyers who toe the line. They won’t invite me. Of course, even if they did, I wouldn’t go.” (Lu Tingge, Shijiazhuang)
“They will not allow me to participate. I also doubt that there is any space or opportunity for us to speak there.” (Liang Xiaojun, Beijing)
“I very much hope to participate in such a conference, but the government would absolutely prohibit the participation of human rights lawyers, so we have to do everything we can to show the true image of Chinese human rights lawyers as a group so as to enable the participants to understand Chinese lawyers, especially the real situation of human rights lawyers.” (Lin Qilei, Beijing)
“On such occasions, the CCP will most certainly arrange lawyers of their choice to speak on behalf of human rights lawyers and sing the praise of the Party’s ‘human rights achievements. But the real Chinese human rights lawyers will find a way to make our voice heard.” (Jiang Tianyong, Beijing)
“This meeting has absolutely nothing to do with lawyers in China who are genuinely seeking rule of law and democracy, and they wouldn’t let such lawyers participate anyway.” (Ren Quanniu of Zhengzhou)
On the eve of International Human Rights Day, words for the international lawyers who will be attending the meeting
“I really am not inclined to criticize any lawyers or officials who will attend the conference. I just want them to be clear-headed when they are in China. What they will see is definitely not all of China or even the most important part. If they aren’t hoodwinked and if they observe the Chinese legal profession with clear eyes, a greater number of ordinary Chinese lawyers may have heartfelt admiration for them.” (Wen Donghai, Changsha)
“I hope attendees from foreign bar associations won’t just listen to the officials’ big empty words and propaganda but pay more attention to the actual human rights situation in China. I hope they learn more about religious groups, ethnic minorities, dissidents and human rights activists. These groups have suffered cruel persecution in China; I hope the foreign attendees will speak on their behalf at the conference and raise questions.” (An anonymous Beijing lawyer)
“I was a partner at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. The firm’s professional license was canceled in November 2018. My own license was revoked in June of this year after the authorities had previously obstructed me in every possible way to prevent me from practicing. I sent many complaints to the Ministry of Justice, the Beijing municipal government, the Beijing Bureau of Justice, and other departments, but have not received any response. I don’t know if any lawyers who handle rights defense and human rights cases will participate in the upcoming meeting. I am interested in public service and social responsibility. A conference of world lawyers –– regardless of its theme –– should pay attention to the practice rights of lawyers.” (Liu Xiaoyuan, Beijing)
“Our law firm, the Beijing Ruikai Law Firm, was established 10 years ago. With the exception of the first year, our firm has met with intentional obstruction during every annual assessment. From June 1, 2018, until the present, neither our firm nor our lawyers have received their annual assessment. The Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau and the Chaoyang District Justice Bureau have not given any reasons for the delay; they’ve just adopted this rogue method to create a situation that in substance is tantamount to having the law firm license canceled, and lawyers, in fact, now are in a state of unemployment. The participants in the Global Lawyers Forum should raise the issue that Chinese human rights lawyers have been persecuted and that they have no legal avenues to defend their right to practice.” (Lin Qilei, Beijing)
“I ask the participants to please take a look at the opinions made by the UN treaty bodies (treaties which China is a party to) about the situation of Chinese lawyers before speaking.” (Chang Weiping,Xi’an)
“I hope the participants can hear the voices of lawyers not sanctioned by the CCP government, and especially look into the real reasons for the revocation of so many lawyers’ licenses.” (Liu Zhengqing, Guangzhou)
“The concept of lawyers under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party is different from the normal Western concept of lawyers. The former Minister of Public Security who was the chief persecutor against human rights lawyers is now in the position to oversee all lawyers in China. In many locales, former domestic security policemen have become chiefs of the judicial bureaus overseeing lawyers. In recent years, the authorities have frequently introduced regulations that restrict lawyers’ freedom of expression and litigation rights; they have established CCP branches in law firms and intensified ideological education. In their everyday practice of law, lawyers are increasingly playing the role of a prop, without any independence to speak of, and have become a tool of authoritarian rule.” (Xie Yanyi, Beijing)
“I hope that the participating lawyers from around the world know that this is a conference organized by the Communist Party because, in China, bar associations are quite simply governmental organizations. The Chinese attendees are handpicked and approved by the Party and the government. I hope that the [international] attendees will pay attention to the deteriorating conditions of human rights lawyers in China. I hope they will learn that, in China, lawyers such as Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Li Yuhan, Chen Wuquan and many more, have been illegally detained and sentenced merely for doing their job as lawyers. They should also pay attention to the harsh reality that many Chinese have been imprisoned merely for exercising their freedom of speech and freedom of belief. I hope the attendees will speak out at the Forum for their Chinese colleagues. Otherwise, it will be a shameful gathering that serves to whitewash the CCP’s wrongdoings, and it will hurt their standing as lawyers from other parts of the world.” (Another anonymous Beijing lawyer)
“With money in their pocket, they want to organize a propaganda event and invite people from around the world to China to give them applauses. That’s all.” (Lu Tingge, Shijiazhuang)
“I hope the participants will not be people who end up endorsing this evil.” (Liu Shuqing, Jinan)