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Editorial: We must end China’s abuse of lawyers

NEW YORK -- The shocking and unacceptable treatment of Chen Guangcheng, a well-known legal advocate, and his family by Chinese authorities reflects the broader problem of harassment of dozens of lawyers in China who represent unpopular clients and causes disfavored by the government. 
 
During 2011 and continuing this year, an unprecedented number of lawyers, legal advocates, and activists in China, in addition to Mr. Chen, were subject to disappearances, arbitrary detentions, physical and mental abuse, intimidation, and harassment. The 2011 crackdown continues to affect Mr. Chen, who is self-taught, and others, including Jiang Tianyong and Tang Jitian, who faced some of the worst abuses during their disappearances. Gao Zhisheng, another prominent human rights lawyer, emerged after a long disappearance in December 2011, only to be returned to a remote prison in Xinjiang. Gao was detained in February 2009, and except for a brief release in March 2010, has been held incommunicado by authorities. 
 
In April 2012, Ni Yulan, a legal activist, was sentenced to a prison term of two years and eight months. Ni has been targeted and harassed by authorities in retaliation for her work on forced evictions and other politically sensitive issues, and has endured multiple prison terms and abuse, including a beating that left her unable to walk. Such beatings of lawyers are by no means rare, as illustrated by the treatment of Chen Guangcheng and his wife, Yuan Weijing, who were beaten in their home on February 10, 2011, by police and state security officials. 
 
These persistent abuses of lawyers for defending unpopular clients contravene both established international law and China’s own domestic laws. During the past several years, the New York City Bar Association has called attention to the situation of lawyers in China and this includes in numerous letters to the Chinese Ministry of Justice and other government officials in China and in the United States. In 2009, the Association undertook a mission to China and published a report detailing its findings and calling attention to the cases of individual lawyers and legal activists who had been detained, abused, charged, or otherwise prevented from undertaking their professional duties as lawyers. The Association has also adopted its own Statement of Principles that expresses our support for the rights of Chinese lawyers. 
 
We urge Chinese authorities not only to investigate the mistreatment of Chen Guangcheng and his wife – and to prosecute those responsible for these abuses – but to end its campaign against all Chinese lawyers representing unpopular clients and causes and to reaffirm the rights afforded Chinese lawyers to practice their profession without interference, harassment, or abuse by national or local authorities. China must also account for and release all lawyers now in detention as a result of their work and recognize that its continuing abuse of lawyers is inconsistent with its claim to be a lawful society deserving of respect by the world community.
 
—Samuel W. Seymour
New York City Bar Association President
 
May 8, 2012 - 7:07pm


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