Dozens of Chinese lawyers signed a joint petition to the Chinese legislature calling for the abolishment of a law that forces them to join a national lawyers association—the All China Lawyers Association, as it is called, is a mass organization controlled by the Communist Party and applies political pressure to lawyers around the country.
Wang Longde, the promoter of the petition, told Radio Free Asia that he and four other lawyers couldn’t pass the annual assessment to renew their licenses after they publicly cancelled their ACLA membership this February.
The annual assessment of lawyers has always been a useful mechanism used by the Chinese regime to control lawyers, attorneys in China say. Ma Tianlin, a prominent Shanghai human rights lawyer, explained how the ACLA forces lawyers to under an annual assessment, and in some cases charges them $416 (around 2,600 yuan) to retain membership. Anyone who fails the test is disqualified from practicing. But fees can vary from place to place, sometimes as high as 8,000 yuan, or $1,200.
Rights lawyer in China are often punished by the local branches of the lawyers association, because they have taken on sensitive political cases—for example, defending the rights of Falun Gong practitioners, or petitioners.
The recent complaint by the lawyers refers to Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which gives citizens the right to freely establish organizations—a contrast to the state-controlled ACLA, with its compulsory membership. They argue also that the ACLA is a violations of regulations issued by the State Council which says: “Organizations are established by Chinese citizens voluntarily.”
Wang Longde, one of the initiators, said in the interview with RFA that 50 lawyers have signed the petition as of Oct. 6, and that the document will be sent to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Oct. 9.
When asked by RFA whether he is worried about being targeted by the authorities, he said: “I can’t wait wait for others to do it and enjoy the results. For me it’s fulfilling our obligations as a citizen.”
The resistance comes after months of heavy suppression of rights lawyers by Chinese authorities. In July, nearly 200 lawyers and human right activists were taken away or arrested by the police around the country. Some had their houses broken into at night, while others had their locks picked while they were home. On July 10, Li Weida, based in Hebei, sent urgent text messages to friends announcing that he was about to be arrested—but minutes later, his phone was already ringing out.