Rights Groups: Chinese Authorities Have Suspended the License of Defense Lawyer for Journalists, Activists

July 15, 2005

Updated March 6: The South China Morning Post and Reporters Without Borders report that the Shanghai Justice Bureau has upheld its decision to suspend the law license of defense lawyer Guo Guoting. The Bureau reportedly accused Guo of "on several occasions adopting positions and making statements contrary to the law and the Constitution" and “defiling and slandering” the Communist Party and government. According to a report published last week by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Bureau issued a notice on February 23 suspending Guo’s license to practice law. A hearing to review the decision was held on March 4. Guo, who plans to appeal the ruling, reportedly stated that the suspension was “unjustified official punishment.” Earlier, Guo told reporters that the government was trying to silence him for defending other activists.

Guo, a well-known lawyer, has defended journalists, Falun Gong practitioners, and other activists. Last year, he defended Zheng Enchong, another lawyer who advocated on behalf of evicted Shanghai residents. Zhang was convicted on charges of disclosing state secrets. Guo is also the defense attorney for three imprisoned writers: Shi Tao, Zhang Lin, and Huang Jinqiu. He was scheduled to attend a hearing on March 7 to represent reporter Shi Tao, who is charged with "leaking state secrets to foreigners" for posting online a document related to the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. With his license suspended, Guo likely will not be able to defend these individuals any longer.

Chinese defense lawyers who represent their clients too vigorously or on politically sensitive matters often face harassment and even prosecution. In some cases, authorities have threatened to revoke or actually revoked law licenses as they have in Guo Guoting’s case. In other cases, prosecutors have brought questionable corruption or "evidence fabrication" charges against lawyers. Although official Chinese sources acknowledge (1, 2) such problems and the government has taken some limited steps to address them, the work environment for defense attorneys does not appear to be improving significantly. According to a recent report in the 21st Century Business Herald, Beijing officials blocked publication of the results of a survey of criminal defense lawyers after the initial survey results suggested that they face severe obstacles in their work. The suspension of Guo Guoting's license is further evidence that the work environment for criminal defense attorneys remains poor.