Lawyers warned to shun milk suits
Litigation could lead to unrest, say cadres
Authorities in some provinces have warned lawyers to refuse cases tied to tainted milk out of fear litigation could lead to 'social unrest', a representative of the lawyers says.
Organisers of a group of 90 lawyers who have offered free legal advice to needy parents affected by the crisis said judicial departments in some provinces had pressured them to stay clear of the issue.
Veteran rights lawyer Li Fangping said officials either asked the them point-blank to withdraw from the group or said they should join the local lawyers' association if they wanted to help the victims.
He said he was not warned to pull out, but that the Beijing Lawyers' Association had asked him 'to put faith in the party and government'.
Lawyers' associations are very much part of the government apparatus.
Another organiser of a group specialising in health legal issues, Lu Jun , said news of the pressure started filtering in the day after the Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend.
The list of 90 lawyers was published online on September 12. One of the lawyers on the list has already pulled out.
'There is a possibility that more will withdraw,' a worried Mr Lu said. 'This is not an individual action taken by one province. This is happening on a bigger scale.'
Jiangsu , Hebei , Henan and Shandong are the provinces most affected by the milk scare. Three of the five Hebei-based lawyers in the group said they had not yet received any inquiries. One did not answer calls yesterday and the other refused to discuss the crisis.
A Henan lawyer, who according to the lawyers' group should have received about 30 inquiries, told his assistant to reject media phone calls about milk-powder cases.
The assistant said the lawyer had instructed him yesterday afternoon that the firm would no longer speak on the tainted-milk-powder cases.
Hebei lawyer Zhai Zhilong , who was not part of the group, said a parent he spoke to yesterday said a number of other lawyers had refused to take on the case.
But none of the lawyers contacted would admit that judicial departments had warned them off the cases.
According to a report yesterday in the Beijing-loyalist Hong Kong newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, Hebei lawyers were keeping silent on the matter.
An anonymous senior Hebei lawyer said authorities had met them as early as September 14, the report said. Officials stressed 'that the government has done a lot of work on this, that the lawyers should consider the overall situation and help maintain stability, that they should not get over-involved in the Sanlu milk powder incident, and that they should keep a distance from 'them''.
Another challenge the lawyers' group faces is a lack of publicity after the media was banned from covering their work.
'We are now sending volunteers to hospitals to hand out legal advice on what to do should their children fall victim to the tainted milk powder. But that often gets stopped by hospital staff,' Mr Lu said.