China Closes ‘House Church’ Law Firm
Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent with reporting from China
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News) — One of China’s prominent law firms, known for defending house churches and other human rights cases, was weighing its legal options Monday, March 9, after it was forced to shut down for six months for “illegally” hiring a Christian attorney.
The Beijing-based Yitong Law Firm said it has appealed against the ruling by a local Justice Department in Beijing suspending its practice, but was still awaiting a decision following
last week’s appeals hearing.
Only the firm’s director, Li Jisong, was reportedly allowed to attend the public hearing on March 3 at the Haidian District People’s Government of Beijing Municipality. All other seats were apparently reserved for local officials.
The six month suspension would “kill the firm,” said Li in published remarks. “They are distorting facts … to get revenge” for the way the firm’s lawyers have criticized or defied government agencies, he said in an interview.
Chinese officials say the firm has been suspended for allowing Christian attorney Li Subin to practice law without a license. However, the firm claims that Li, who worked as deputy director, served only in administrative duties and acted as a legal adviser.
Li is a qualified attorney since 1991, but the government has refused to renew his license after he after he filed, and won, a case against Henan Province’s Judicial Bureau for overcharging legal fees following 391 days of detention.
Last year, Li and several other lawyers in Yitong Law Office also launched a campaign to call for direct elections in the Communist-controlled Beijing Lawyer’s Association.
Advocacy groups say the closure of the firm is part of a series of government tactics to fight against human rights lawyers.
Li told reporters he believes the reason behind the closure order is his firm’s involvement in several high profile trials, ranging from defending house church Christians to the case of Hu Jia, an AIDS activist and winner of the European Parliament’s top human rights award in 2008. Hu is now serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for supposedly “inciting subversion.”
Yitong also defended Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2006 after starting a campaign against the Chinese Communist Party’s infamous “one child” policy of forced abortion and sterilization in several parts of the country.
Chinese officials have refused to comment, saying they first want to await the final ruling in the appeals case launched by the law firm.