China - April 2012

The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concerns about the harassment, arrests and disappearances of human rights lawyers in China 

The Law Society of Upper Canada continues to condemn the persecution, harassment, arrests, detentions, disappearances and escalating human rights violations against lawyers in China. In the past, the Law Society of Upper Canada has repeatedly condemned the persecution and ill-treatment of lawyers in China, including the treatment of human rights lawyers Gao Zhisheng, Zheng Enchong, Chen Guangcheng, Li Jianqiang, Teng Baio and Li Heping.

Two recent legal developments raise further concerns about the independence and safety of the legal profession in China. On March 14, the National People's Congress legalized the secret detention of people who are suspected of certain types of crimes. Individuals who are suspected in national security cases may be held in secret detention for up to six months. The Law Society is concerned that human rights lawyers will be victimized by this law.

Additionally, on March 21, the Justice Ministry announced that all lawyers seeking to renew their license and all new applicants for a license to practice law in China will be required to take an oath of loyalty to the Communist Party. This appears to be an attempt to reign in dissident lawyers, and could lead to the unfair exclusion of applicants who belong to other political parties, or whose religious beliefs preclude them from taking the oath. 

These new developments, along with the continued detention of human rights lawyers, further represent efforts to restrict and weaken the independence of the legal profession and undermines China's commitment to the rule of law. International human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary state that judicial independence and human rights are necessary to advancing the rule of law. Moreover, lawyers and judges must be able to fulfill their professional obligations without fear for their security in order to advance the rule of law. 

The Law Society of Upper Canada calls on the Chinese authorities to: 

  1. modify the law of criminal procedure to prevent secret detentions;
  2. cease to require lawyers to swear an oath of loyalty to the Communist Party;
  3. immediately and unconditionally release from prison or house arrest all human rights lawyers who have been detained as a result of their legitimate professional activities;
  4. guarantee in all circumstances the physical, psychological and professional integrity of all lawyers, and ensure that all lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of arbitrary detention, torture or ill treatment or other human rights violations;
  5. put an end to all acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights lawyers in China;
  6. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by China;
  7. uphold the rule of law as defined by public international law; and
  8. take immediate steps to promote the independence of the legal profession. 

The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for some 43,000 lawyers and 4,000 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.

The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in China in their effort to maintain the independence of the legal profession, to advance the respect for human rights and to promote the rule of law.