Radio Free China

Human Rights and Religious Freedom News

Yitong Law Firm Closed for Defending Human Rights Cases

Posted by radiofreechina on March 9, 2009

By Jeremy Reynalds
Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

BEIJING (ANS) On March 3, a hearing was held for the Beijing Yitong Law Firm which is being forced to shut down for six months by the Haidian District Judicial Bureau.

According to a news release from ChinaAid, organizational sources say the reason behind the forced closure is that authorities are punishing the firm because some of its attorneys signed an open letter in Aug. 2008 asking that independent candidates be allowed to run in the election of the leadership of the Beijing Lawyers Association (equivalent to the U.S. Bar Association).

An additional reason was that the firm has provided representation for a number of human rights cases, including cases of persecution against house church Christians.

CiinaAid said only Li Jisong, the director of the law firm, was allowed to attend the public hearing on March 3 at 9:30 a.m.

ChinaAid said the other 12 lawyers and workers from the firm were forbidden to attend the hearing, even though the hearing was public and they filed official request forms asking permission to attend immediately after receiving the hearing notice on Feb. 23. The government officials said there was no room, because all the seats were filled by Feb. 25.

In fact, ChinaAid said, the government deliberately filled all the seats with Haidian District Bureau of Justice officials. Presiding over the two-hour hearing was a committee organized by the Bureau of Justice. The committee has not yet released a decision.

ChinaAid reported the government said the forced closure is because the firm allowed Christian attorney, Li Subin, to practice law without a license. However, the firm said that Li Subin, who worked as deputy director of the firm, served only in administrative duties and acted as a legal advisor.

ChinaAid said although he has been a qualified and licensed attorney since 1991, he never acted in that capacity at the firm because the government refused to renew his license after he brought a lawsuit in 2001 against the Louyang City Bureau of Justice and Louyang Bar Association for collecting illegal lawyer license registration fees. Even though Li Subin won the suit, his license has been refused renewal ever since, and he has had no explanation from authorities for the reason.

ChinaAid said the forced closure of the firm is the most recent in a series of government tactics to shut down the firm in order to stop their human rights defense work. In October, government officials pressured the firm to fire some of their attorneys, including Li Subin, because they signed the open letter asking for the free election of the leadership of Beijing Lawyers Association.

The implication for a free election, ChinaAid reported, is that the member lawyers would be able to choose their own leadership rather than accept the leaders the government chooses.

ChinaAid said a Chinese news source (www.canyu.org), interviewed Attorney Liu Xiaoyuan of Yitong Law Firm. Attorney Liu said that the law firm will defend itself on the basis of three aspects.

Haidian District Bureau of Justice is not qualified to impose the administrative penalty of forcing the law firm to close for six months. Li Subin did not act as an attorney in the firm’s cases; he was only involved as a legal advisor. Even if the charge was legitimate, the penalty of closing down the law firm for six months is not fair or just. In similar cases, the penalty is generally a warning, an order for improvement, or a fine.

ChinaAid said it is urging the international community to speak out on behalf of Yitong Law Firm. Their work defending human rights cases, including persecuted house church Christians, has made them a target of the government.

ChinaAid is urging readers to contact the Chinese Ambassador and let him know their concern about the actions taken against the Yitong Law Firm.

He may be contacted as follows: Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, 2300 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20008. Tel: 202-745 6743.

For more information go to www.ChinaAid.org  and www.MonitorChina.org

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