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In China, Rights Lawyer Likely to Be Disbarred for Defending Client

FILE - A security guard and police vehicle are seen outside the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China's southern Guangdong province, May 7, 2015.
FILE - A security guard and police vehicle are seen outside the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China's southern Guangdong province, May 7, 2015.

Authorities in China’s southern Guangdong province are expected to soon revoke the license of a prominent rights lawyer, apparently for defending his client. Authorities held a public hearing Saturday to decide if such an administrative punishment would be imposed on lawyer Liu Zhengqing, according to other rights lawyers.

A final decision is expected a week from the hearing.

The ruling against Liu for allegedly “endangering state security” and “malicious defamation” while defending his clients will be the first of its kind.

The department of justice in Guangdong didn’t specify which comments in Liu’s earlier defense statements were at issue when he defended an ethnic Uighur minority in late 2016 and a Falun Gong practitioner in 2017.

Media reports, however, said what riled authorities the most was an earlier defense, in which he said: “the Chinese Communist Party was having a dictator’s doomsday panic, so much so that its lackeys were enforcing a political suppression through judicial means.”

Once disbarred, Liu will be the 26th rights lawyers in China who has suffered such administrative suppression in the past year or so, rights groups say.

Fight against state apparatus

Liu did not show up at Saturday’s hearing to defend himself. He told VOA that he was unwilling to play along with what he called a “show trial” the provincial justice department has put on to disbar him.

“[Such an administrative punishment on me] is neither legal nor reasonable. But what can I say? Will they listen to me? It’s just another black-box operation of theirs. I have no way of [defending for myself] or telling what will come my way next,” Liu said.

Liu added that an individual can’t win the fight against the state apparatus. He thus won’t waste time and energy to appeal his case if he is disbarred.

Liu has been a well-known rights lawyer, who specializes in criminal defense. He has taken up many “politically sensitive” cases including the cases of other rights lawyers and activists such as Xie Yang, Qing Yongmin and Huang Qi.

In Liu’s absence, Sui Muqing, another rights lawyer who had been previously disbarred, appeared at Saturday’s hearing to plead for Liu’s case.

Sui and 24 other rights lawyers have previously issued an open letter in support of Liu.

Public hearing?

Sui said that the so-called public hearing was secret in its nature as many of Liu’s supporters weren’t allowed in while the justice department didn’t provide necessary materials for him to defend for Liu.

Sui argued that Liu had done nothing illegal but to make statements of non-guilty defense for his clients and state security charges are vaguely defined and arbitrarily applied offenses.

Sui said any punishment on Liu will set a bad precedent that will negatively impact lawyers’ autonomy to defend their clients.

“The consequences will be terrible once such a bad example is set. That means that, in future human rights cases, no lawyers will dare to plead innocence for clients. That way, we will be faced with a failing system of legal defense,” Sui said.

Sui added that, in his experience, a final decision to disbar Liu may be reached later this week.

The justice department on Monday refused to comment.

And Sui agreed that Liu’s punishment may signal a warning for his role in representing dissident Huang Qi. Huang was scheduled to stand for a pre-trial hearing in early December, which got canceled for reasons unknown. And Huang’s mother appeared to have disappeared after having disclosed the hearing notice to media two days before the hearing.

“Over the years, lawyer Liu has taken on so many [influential] human rights cases. If the case of Huang Qi is a factor, I’d say that Huang’s case is the final straw that has broken the camel’s back,” he said.

Political persecution

Albert Ho, chairman of China Human Rights Concern Group in Hong Kong, noted that Liu’s punishment is yet another example of China’s ongoing political persecution to intimidate rights defenders and dissidents, following its crackdown on rights lawyers in 2015.

“I think the overall target is to silence the whole legal community particularly with regard to those who are outspoken, who wish to uphold legal justice and pursuing the legal objectives independent of the direction of the government,” Ho said.

Rights groups have strongly condemned China’s arbitrary administrative punishments on large numbers of rights lawyers.

Ho said that his organization demands China immediately withdraw all illegal administrative penalties against Liu and his peers in the past.

In accordance with its constitution and the Lawyers Law, China should ensure its lawyers are able to perform their professional duties without intimidation or hindrance, nor shall they suffer prosecution or penalties for any speech or action while practicing law, the group said in a press statement.