MAC: Mines and Communities

Last week, China's president was warmly greeted by the Queen of England and prime minister Blair, at

Published by MAC on 2005-11-07

Last week, China's president was warmly greeted by the Queen of England and prime minister Blair, at the start of an official state visit. But Hu Jintao couldn't quite avoid the attentions of protestors against the repression increasingly charactistic of his regime on the mainland as well as in Tibet. Now a leading Chinese civil rights lawyer and his law firm, which took up a key mining case in 2004, has been ordered to stop all operations for a year.

Beijing Orders Law Firm Run by Prominent Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng to Close for One Year

November 7 2005

China Labour Bulletin (CLB) Press Release No. 10

A leading Chinese civil rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, has been punished by the Chinese authorities for handling a series of high profile human rights cases involving the detention or abuse in custody of Falun Gong practitioners, rural rights campaigners, labour activists and others. On 4 November, the Beijing Bureau of Justice ordered Gao's Beijing-based Sheng Zhi Law Firm to suspend all operations for a period of one year.

According to news reports, the authorities imposed this punishment after Gao Zhisheng refused to renounce a letter he sent to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on 18 October calling for an end to the widespread detention and torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China, and after he refused to withdraw from other politically sensitive legal cases as demanded by Beijing officials. Gao had posted his letter to China's top leaders on the Internet and distributed it widely by email.

Less well known is the brave and outspoken work undertaken by Gao Zhisheng's law firm on behalf of workers' rights in China over recent years. One example was the law firm's court defence of a group of workers who faced criminal charges after participating in mass protests in April 2004 against poor working conditions at two shoe factories in Dongguan City, Guangdong, owned by the Taiwanese firm Stella International. Thanks to the principled defence case put forward by Gao and his colleagues, all the workers were eventually freed. (For background on the case, see: The Stella Shoe Workers Protest.)

Other civil rights cases undertaken by Gao Zhisheng include his legal assistance to a former worker named Wang Guilan, who in August 2005 was detained for trying to enter the United Nations office in Beijing and has since been sentenced without trial to 18 months of "re-education through labour." Gao is currently helping Ms. Wang, who was in the midst of undergoing a series of operations after suffering severe facial burns several years ago, to sue the Enshi City police for wrongful detention. (For further details, see: The Case of Wang Guilan.)

In addition, Gao has been assisting the family members of miners killed in the Chenjiashan coal mine explosion in Tungchuan City, Shaanxi Province, in November 2004 to launch a lawsuit in which the families will seek up to 1 million yuan each in compensation from the mining company. (For details of the Chenjiashan disaster, see: below.)

"The Beijing authorities' vindictive retaliation against Gao Zhisheng's law firm is deplorable," said CLB's director Han Dongfang. "It directly undermines the government's claim to be promoting the rule of law and a sound civil society. Gao is a front-line human rights defender, and an attack on him is an attack on citizens' rights in general."

China Labour Bulletin calls on the Chinese government to show respect for its own legal system by immediately rescinding the closure order against the Sheng Zhi Law Firm.

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