Chinese legal authorities yesterday formally disbarred a prominent rights lawyer who was handed a suspended sentence last year for writing Internet posts the government said incited ethnic hatred, ending his career.
Activists have said the three-year suspended sentence for Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強) would serve as a strong reminder to other rights lawyers that the Chinese Communist Party, currently engaged in a severe clampdown on dissent, would brook no challenge to its rule.
Pu has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) and activists of the “New Citizens’ Movement,” a group that has called on Chinese leaders to make their wealth public, and his case has attracted wide concern in Western capitals.
Pu told reporters he had received the formal notification from the Beijing City Judicial Bureau that his lawyer’s license had been revoked. He declined further comment, saying he was not supposed to accept interviews.
Calls to the judicial bureau seeking comment went unanswered.
Fellow rights lawyer and friend Shang Baojun (尚寶軍) said the disbarment had been expected since Pu’s conviction in December last year, because a person found guilty of a criminal offense is not allowed to practice law.
“Unless one day his conviction is overturned, then he’ll never be allowed to practice law again. It’s really the end of his career,” Shang said.
The charges against Pu were based on seven microblog posts that he had published online, criticizing the government’s ethnic policy in the troubled western region of Xinjiang and several officials, according to his lawyers.
The news of the disbarment comes as the US Department of State criticized Beijing’s “severe” crackdown against lawyers and law firms handling cases that authorities consider politically sensitive.
The department highlighted repression against civil society in its annual report on human rights practices around the world, including in a number of authoritarian Asian nations.
The report, released by US Secretary of State John Kerry, covers last year. It says repression and coercion markedly increased in China, and hundreds of lawyers and law associates were interrogated, investigated and in many cases detained in secret locations for months without charges or access to attorneys or family members.
US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, a top envoy on human rights issues, said that the repression was a government attempt to project strength, but in fact communicated weakness, as expectations rise among Chinese people who have become wealthier and connected to the Internet.
“Like people everywhere else they want to live in a country where the rule of law is respected and corruption is punished and exposed, and environmental problems are not swept under the rug. They want the same thing as people anywhere else, and the government senses that and it feels insecure and it cracks down,” Malinowski told reporters.
“I think that when we speak out on these issues we are 100 percent aligned with the aspirations of most ordinary people in China,” he said.
The report also criticizes the enforced disappearances of five men working in Hong Kong’s publishing industry, saying Chinese security officials were believed to be responsible.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent years, China has responded to the annual US report by issuing its own on human rights problems in the US. Last year, it concluded that racial discrimination and police abuses are rife in the US.
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