Sunday, May 31, 2009

Changing the Rules

Today is the deadline for Chinese lawyers to renew their permits that allow them to practice law in China.

It is an annual bureaucratic paperwork process of being summoned to the local judicial bureau or Lawyers Association and presenting a payment of dues.

However, some, particularly those who have worked on human rights cases, or those incidents that have attracted worldwide attention, may not be getting a renewal stamp in their booklets.

It's the Chinese government's way of preventing cases that challenge it from going ahead.

Some lawyers offered to defend Tibetans accused of inciting riots last year; some represented families affected in the tainted milk scandal; or others helped the parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake.

Many of these lawyers may not be able to practice law this year -- which means they technically have no job, as no law firm will not hire lawyers who don't have the permit to practice.

However, when the Asian Wall Street Journal asked the Beijing Judicial Bureau about this problem, Dong Chunjiang, a deputy director of the bureau replied: "All lawyers are treated equally. Our 19,000 lawyers are protecting people's rights."

But they haven't just been legally barred from representing people's rights. A few lawyers have been reported physically beaten and detained.

Some lawyers believe the renewal process has stopped or been postponed because of the sensitive time period with June 4 coming up and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.

Nevertheless, the fundamental question is this -- how is China supposed to progress if its laws are not challenged or defended by lawyers?

The country needs these lawyers now more than ever to encourage people have faith in the system, that there is justice and equity.

When the government prevents lawyers from doing their jobs, how can anyone have faith in the rule of law in China?

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