China Reins in Protest Lawyers
China Reins in Protest Lawyers

BEIJING – China has announced curbs on lawyers who represent protesters and warned them to beware of contact with foreign organisations and media in a step Chinese human rights attorneys said was a blow to the rule of law.

The All-China Lawyers Association, a government-controlled body that regulates the profession, issued a “Guiding Opinion on Lawyers Handling Mass Cases”.

The rules demand that lawyers who take on “mass” cases pressed by protesters and other groups of 10 or more should report the cases to the association and “accept the monitoring and guidance of the judicial administration agencies”.

The association said the rules were needed to ensure that sensitive disputes involving protests over forced land and housing requisition, resettlement for dams, privatisation of state businesses, and pollution spills did not threaten social stability.

“Mass cases often involve complex social, economic and political causes and have a varied impact on the state and society that cannot be ignored,” said the rules issued on the association’s Web site (www.chineselawyer.com.cn) on Tuesday but only now attracting wider notice.

“Therefore, there is a need to regulate and guide lawyers who handle mass cases.”

China has seen rising numbers of protests in recent years, and the ruling Communist Party has responded with a mixture of restrictions and concessions.

Early this year, the Ministry of Public Security said there had been 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other “public order disturbances” in 2005, a rise of 6.6. percent on 2004.

Growing numbers of aggrieved citizens have raised their claims in court, helped by a small but growing band of full-time rights campaigners, said Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing law professor who often represents citizens suing government officials and police.

“More and more lawyers have been taking on these cases. That’s because of public demand and because lawyers are increasingly standing up as an independent force,” Xu told Reuters on Thursday.

“This imposes a new obligation on lawyers to report about these cases, and that may attract problems and pressure,” he said of the rules.

The new rules also warn lawyers not to help organise or participate in mass petitions to government and Communist Party offices. They must show a “high level of social responsibility” and “protect national stability” in handling such cases.

“There should be caution about contacts with foreign organisations and media,” the rules add.

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