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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]
投诉受理查处中心联系人： 贺宁 程亮亮