Chinese authorities have confiscated a lawyer’s license and threatened to do the same to another after they volunteered to defend the nephew of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠).
The moves come as Chen, whose escape from house arrest last month sparked an international furor, said officials were “going crazy” with reprisals against his family in Shandong Province.
Chen’s escape and subsequent refuge in the US embassy caused embarrassment for China and led to a diplomatic crisis in Sino-US ties.
The Chinese Communist Party has always been wary of lawyers, who officials suspect could challenge one-party rule through their advocacy of the rule of law.
Authorities have frequently sought to prevent lawyers from taking up politically sensitive cases by suspending their licenses.
The pressure has intensified in the past year.
Last year, dozens of human rights lawyers were detained without charge as China cracked down on potential political challengers amid fears that anti-authoritarian uprisings in the Arab world could inspire protests against one-party rule.
Chen Wuquan (陳武權), a lawyer based in Guangdong Province, said the Guangzhou Lawyers’ Association had confiscated his license “temporarily” last week during a standard annual renewal. The lawyer Chen is not related to the Chen family from Shandong.
The association told him it could not renew his license because it had to deal with a complaint about an article he had written about the Chinese legal system.
“It must be related [to the nephew’s case], because this kind of complaint should be processed quickly,” Chen Wuquan said. “It’s not possible that they would have to confiscate my license and not allow me to handle new cases.”
The justice ministry was not available for comment.
Chen Wuquan was supposed to travel to Shandong on Thursday to meet the nephew, Chen Kegui (陳克貴), who has been accused of “homicide with intent.”
Chen Kegui is said to have brandished a kitchen cleaver at guards who stormed into the home of the blind dissident’s brothers after his escape prompted a panicked search by officials.
Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), a prominent rights lawyer, said that the charge of “homicide with intent” had been trumped up and that it should actually be “wounding with intent.”
“When Chen Guangcheng heard the news, he said: ‘How vile,’” said Jiang, a friend of the blind activist.
Chen Guangcheng, who is recuperating in a Beijing hospital, had said his biggest worry now was for his nephew.
Ren Zongju (任宗舉), Chen Ke-gui’s mother, was released after she “obtained a guarantee pending a trial,” similar to bail. Ren was detained on April 29 for “harboring” a criminal, according to a copy of the release document.
Late last month, six lawyers formed a team volunteering to defend Chen Kegui after an audio recording of him sobbing appeared on a blog. One of the lawyers, Liu Weiguo (劉衛國), said that number has grown to 13, despite warnings from the authorities to lawyers not to get involved.
Liu, who was initially supposed to be the lead lawyer representing Chen Kegui, said he was on his way to Linyi in Shandong to meet Chen Kegui late last month when state security officers warned him to drop the case, saying his license could be revoked and they would “meet” with his family.
He was asked to return immediately to Jinan, the capital of Shandong, where he is based.