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China: Human Rights Lawyers Disbarred

(May 11, 2010) On May 7, 2010, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice (BMBJ) revoked the licenses of two Chinese human rights lawyers, Liu Wei (f) and Tang Jitian (m), permanently disbarring them from practice. At a hearing held by the BMBJ in April 2010, the two lawyers were accused of having broken the law by disrupting courtroom proceedings in their defense of a Falun Gong practitioner in Luzhou, Sichuan, in April 2009. Falun Gong, founded in 1992 and based on Chinese breathing exercises and other traditional practices drawn from Buddhism and Taoism, is viewed as a spiritual movement by its followers and as a cult (which has been banned) by the Chinese government. (David Manes, China Disbars Two Human Rights Lawyers, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST, May 9, 2010, available at; Craig S. Smith, THE WORLD: Rooting Out Falun Gong; China Makes War on Mysticism, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Apr. 30, 2000, available at

The BMBJ's revocation decisions, posted on its website, stated that Liu and Tang had “disobeyed the instructions of court personnel and disrupted courtroom order.” (Beijing Judicial Bureau Revokes Licenses of Two Rights Defense Lawyers, May 7, 2010, Human Rights in China website, available at
.) Liu and Tang contend that that it was the presiding judge, not they, who disrupted the proceedings, by allowing unauthorized videotaping and by repeatedly interrupting their defense statements with loud pounding of the gavel. Unable to continue with the defense, they handed over the written defense statement and left the courtroom. According to Human Rights in China, an international nongovernmental advocacy organization, “[r]evocation of a lawyer's license normally happens only after a trial and criminal conviction, rarely as a result of an administrative hearing.” (Id.)

Liu and Tang may have been targeted, Chinese lawyers aver, because of their work in representing victims of illegal land requisition and home demolition, persons suffering discrimination because of HIV/AIDS, and parents whose children were victims of tainted milk powder. In particular, the revocation action may be a matter of “abuse of power … an act of revenge taken by the judicial bureau” because the two lawyers joined other lawyers in February-March 2009 in filing a complaint with the Beijing Public Security Bureau accusing the BMBJ and the Beijing Lawyers Association of “'blackmailing and extortion' for charging lawyers exorbitant fees for annual license registration.” (Id.) Although the complaint was rejected by the Public Security Bureau, it was posted on the Internet, where it remains on view. (Id., with a link to the text, in Chinese, provided.)

Tang and Liu have stated that they plan to use every legal avenue available to appeal the decision and will file a complaint against the BMBJ. (Id.)