China always arbitrarily detains human rights lawyers, in extreme cases even holding them incommunicado, should the regime find that these lawyers interfered with the regime’s vested interests. This was shown in the notorious ‘709 Crackdown’ in 2015, during which several hundred human rights lawyers and defenders were detained or harassed and some of them reported being tortured or ill-treated during detention.
What appears to be the recent practice to repress human rights lawyers, however, is the extensive use of review, revocation or suspension of legal practice licenses against these lawyers so as to paralyse their rights to practise, and thus directly smashing their rice bowls. Such ‘strategy’ could be dissected in a threefold manner as follows.
Reviewing – gauging Annual Review System
Unlike most of the jurisdictions in the world, pursuant to Articles 58 and 59 of the ‘Administrative Measures for Law Firms’ issued by the PRC Ministry of Justice, lawyers and law firms in the mainland China have to undergo an Annual Review System administered by the Justice Bureau and the All China Lawyers Association (‘ACLA’), an association officially operated to manage lawyers in China. In essence, both legal practitioners and law firms’ licenses are subject to renewal every year by government authorities who frequently exercise power to withhold renewal of human rights lawyers’ license without spelling out legitimately valid reasons. When being the target of suppression, these lawyers raise fears of not being able to practice in their entire career.
Suspending – legal practice licenses are temporarily invalidated
The suspension of practice is used as a façade to stifle lawyers’ right to work as it embodies an excessively stringent standard. For the lawyers who have not been retained by a law firm for over six months consecutively would have their licenses suspended pursuant to Article 23 Section 4 of the ‘Administrative Measures for Lawyers Practice’.