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China human rights lawyers face non-renewal

BEIJING (BP) — Chinese officials have refused to renew the licenses of nearly a dozen Beijing law firms and more than 10 attorneys known for taking on human rights cases in the communist country, signaling that the “rule of law is losing ground,” according to ChinaAid June 3.

The annual license renewal period runs from April 1 to May 31, and by early May, 99 percent of Beijing’s more than 1,000 law firms had passed their annual review and received new licenses from the Beijing Justice Bureau, the watch group said.

But by May 31, about 10 law firms and more than 10 lawyers had been told that, for unspecified reasons, they had not passed the Justice Bureau’s annual review and have not been able to renew their licenses, ChinaAid reported. This means they have been effectively shut down and are not permitted to practice law.

The singled-out law firms and lawyers “all frequently take on human rights and rights defense cases,” ChinaAid said, including those involving freedom of religion and re-education through labor.

When the lawyers questioned bureau officials, they were given vague answers such as, “There’s a problem with your law firm,” ChinaAid said. When they asked for specific details, officials refused to answer.

“ChinaAid regards this illegal and perverse behavior of the Beijing judicial authorities as yet another indication that the rule of law is losing ground under the new Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang leadership,” the organization said in a news release, referring to China’s new president and premier.

“ChinaAid calls on the Beijing Justice Bureau to abandon its hostile and stubborn attitude toward these lawyers. History has shown that a society that does not have independent lawyers can never achieve the rule of law,” ChinaAid said.

“In China, the Chinese Communists themselves like to shout the slogan of ‘build a socialist country under the rule of law,’ but this is nothing but empty talk and will never become a reality.”

Among other developments in China:

— The Chinese government has shut down at least a dozen house churches in the southern province of Hainan in recent weeks and many others have been threatened with closure, ChinaAid said June 1.

On May 26, while the Sanya Hosanna Church was holding a morning worship service, seven or eight people from the Religious Affairs Bureau and a neighborhood committee delivered a document regarding the “voluntary dissolution of irregular and illegal religious meeting sites,” ChinaAid said.

Worshippers were told to go to the city’s registered religious meeting sites and were threatened that if they met again, they would be held accountable.

The neighborhood committee, ChinaAid said, also exerted pressure on the church’s landlord, and the landlord gave the church 15 days’ notice to move out. Officials restricted the church’s pastor from traveling to Hong Kong for a conference, telling him it could jeopardize national interests.

Three other house churches faced similar persecution the same day, ChinaAid said, and two weeks earlier five other churches were shut down.

Bob Fu, ChinaAid’s president and founder, said closing churches is an “alarming sign” that conditions have not improved under China’s new president, who took office in March.

“The government is carrying out its plans to ‘eradicate’ the independent house church movement, a crackdown that would affect up to 100 million people,” Fu said. “China must end this repression if it wants global respect as a rising power. We urge President Obama to raise this issue at the upcoming summit with President Xi.”

Also in the news release, ChinaAid expressed “shock and concern” that the government was systematically closing down house churches.

“Recent reports from many other provinces and regions indicate that the same thing is happening to house churches elsewhere as well, further confirming ChinaAid’s report last year of the intensification of the Chinese government’s secret 10-year plan to eradicate house churches,” the organization said.

“We will be paying close attention to China’s worsening religious persecution and call upon the global church and good-hearted people of the world to pray for the church in China,” ChinaAid said. “We should use prayers and action to show those in power the Apostle Paul’s warning in Acts 26:14, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ God’s church will be eternally victorious.”

— The Chinese government continues its tight grip on religious education, according to a May 15 report by Forum 18 News Service. China does not allow religious communities to run schools for children, even though regulations do not forbid the provision of religious education to minors, the news service said.

Religious education is not provided in state schools, and for would-be seminary students, only state-approved religious groups affiliated with China’s five state-backed monopoly faiths are allowed to apply to set up institutions to train clergy, Forum 18 said.

Such institutions operate under strict guidelines, such as the fact that curricula must include “politics” and “patriotic” education as defined by the state. Religious activity on university campuses is discouraged, Forum 18 said, reflecting the “authoritarian state’s desire to control religious groups, including by intervening in the training of their leaders and the level of education of their members.”

Hong Kong and Macau, the news service noted, are not subject to the tight controls on religious education.

— Gong Shengliang, who with 16 other Christians from a large house church movement was arrested in 2001, has suffered a debilitating stroke after serving nearly 12 years in prison with no medical aid.

Gong, the former leader of the South China Church movement, which reached 50,000 members before China banned it, suffered the stroke late last year and has been unable to walk or speak, his daughter wrote in an open letter to China’s president in April.

“His life is in serious danger,” she wrote, adding that she had asked that he be released on bail for urgent medical treatment.

“But, again and again, our petitions were completely ignored, without any reasonable response,” Gong Hulai wrote, according to Morning Star News May 27. “It is very urgent for my father to have immediate medical treatment, otherwise he might die soon in the prison or remain disabled for life.”

Gong was charged in 2001 with leading an illegal “cult” and sentenced to death before international protests led to the withdrawal of the death sentence. He then was sentenced to life in prison and reportedly has been severely tortured.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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