Three years ago I wrote about new restrictions on the speech and conduct of Chinese lawyers. Leaked revisions of the lawyers’ professional code of conduct appeared to go far beyond the needs of regulating the profession, and created limits on lawyers’ speech even outside of their professional activities. Lawyers were warned off commenting on specific cases, the legal system, and politics; topics which they are uniquely qualified to provide insight into.
Roughly a year later, the profession was rocked by a crackdown on hundreds of lawyers, the fallout of which is still being felt. The crackdown on ‘rights defenders’ was explained as targeting a few disgruntled trouble makers– the bad apples who stir up sensitive cases to create negative public opinion against the government, paying protesters with funds sometimes take from foreign organizations.
The current version of the Lawyers Code of Conduct is revised significantly, but contains prohibitions against ‘creating a negative social impact’ and ‘harming the reputation of the legal profession’ that are vague and chilling, even outside of practice activities. [Article 15] Not to mention the latest additions, affirming that loyalty to the Party is a basic requirement for practice of law, and prohibiting use of one’s ‘identity as a lawyer’ to hype cases, attack the system, undermine order etc. — language that echoes the accusations of the crackdown. [Articles 3, 6]
Circling among Wechat groups and Twitter today, is a document that shows how the code of conduct is applied in practice. [Right] This notification from the Hangzhou Provincial Lawyers Association to Lawyer Wu Youshui, explains that an investigation has been initiated regarding comments he made disparaging the Party and government on Weibo (a domestic microblog service, akin to Twitter), based on the complaint of a net user.
I’ve decided to translate the notice below, because it really speaks for itself. [Click if not in English]
Lawyer WU Youshui:
On July 11, 2017, this association received a complaint from an internet user saying that you frequently publish negative assessments of the Party, government, and government departments, on SinaWeibo, transmitting negative social energy and seriously damaging the professional image of laywers, and requesting that we address this situation sternly, in accordance with our rules..
On the basis of Article 48 of the All China Lawyers Association's "Rules for Punishment of Violations by Members of Lawyers Associations (Provisional)" this association has decided to open a case regarding this complaint, and has appointed two members of the Discipline and Punishment Committee, YONG Ming and LI Yacheng, to form the investigation group and conduct the investigation.
Please submit a written defense to this association on the date of receipt of this notice, and submit relevant written materials. If you request the recusal of the members of the investigation team, present and explain the reasons at the same time.
Complaint Acceptance and Investigation Center, contact persons: HE Ning, CHENG Liangliang
Contact Phone: 0571-87555256
Notice is hereby given