When Defending an Unpopular Client Means Losing a Law License

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From today’s NYTimes:

Two prominent human rights lawyers have lost their licenses after volunteering to defend Tibetans charged in the violent anti-China protests that erupted in March. The decision comes as Chinese authorities are tightening scrutiny over dissidents in advance of the Olympics in August.

The two lawyers, Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong, are known for taking on politically contentious cases, including those alleging official abuses of human rights. Reached on Tuesday night, Mr. Teng said he learned last week that judicial authorities had renewed the license of every lawyer in his firm, except his own.

The Chinese may be “tightening scrutiny over dissidents,” but this action certainly invites more — not less — outside scrutiny of its social and political policies.  As hundreds of law professors said earlier this year in joining the Yale  petition to General Musharraf of Pakistan, “trampling upon the very system of law” weakens a government’s authority over its people.  Democracy may not be coming to China any time soon, but all of us who care about the freedom to voice unpopular views, to be treated fairly by the judicial system and to advocate on behalf of our clients within the bounds of our ethical and legal responsibilities should be outraged at China’s treatment of Mr. Teng and Mr. Jiang.

Non-sequitur (or not):  The legal profession in China remains largely male-dominated.  Chinese-controlled Tibetan press reports here  in an undated article that there are approximately 153 lawyers in Tibet, 6 of whom are women.  

The full NYTimes story is here.

-Bridget Crawford

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