In a rare move, China’s national bar association named and shamed seven lawyers who have fought some of the country’s highest-profile human rights cases by calling them frauds in a statement published in an official newspaper.
The statement has raised concerns that a further crackdown on outspoken legal professionals might follow soon.
The seven rights advocates – some of whom had recently tried to investigate a sensitive Falun Gong case – “are not lawyers; the activities they pursue are unrelated to the legal profession”, the All-China Lawyer’s Association said in a statement.
The state-backed bar association said the group had been stripped of their licences to practice law. It stressed in the statement, meant to “protect the legal profession’s image and reputation”, that the public should be aware these men were not lawyers.
中华全国律师协会在《法制日报》登出声明，给了那些曾经的律师，现在的公民们一个官方说法，更像是一个“光荣榜”。 pic.twitter.com/2NN7wrdILv 
— 梁小军 (@liangxiaojun) June 30, 2014 
The statement appeared in Monday’s edition  of the Legal Daily, a newspaper under Communist Party's Legal and Political Affairs Commission.
Over the last months, China’s crackdown on dissent has extended to lawyers who have raised awareness about called attention to human rights cases online and challenged them in court.
Last month, the lawyers association threatened to bar its members from revealing information about a case online before a ruling is made. It said lawyers trying to raise awareness on cases online could be stripped of their licence.
The seven men named in the statement had all already been stripped of their licences, the association said.
The public should be aware that they were not lawyers, it said, arguing that the statement served to “protect the legal profession’s image and reputation”.
Wang Cheng, one of the seven lawyers mentioned in the statement, said had not been formally notified about the revocation of his licence, but had been barred from registering at his current law firm ever since he joined the Hangzhou-based company in 2012.
“This is the first time I can remember seeing such a notice,” he said, speaking on the phone from Beijing. “We don’t know yet what they are aiming for, but given what has happened in the past months, this might be an indication that they will take further steps [against rights lawyers].”
Wang Cheng along with Jiang Tianyong and Tang Jitian, two other lawyers named in Monday’s notice, was among the 11 detained by police in the northeastern Heilongjiang province in March for “using cult activities to endanger society”.
The group had travelled to the remote city of Jiansanjiang to investigate the detention of practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned on the mainland and deemed an “evil cult” by the authorities.
They had gone on hunger strike when local authorities refused to let them meet the practitioners they believed to be unlawfully held at a state-run forestry and farming community there.
The statement also named Teng Biao, a former law lecturer at the University of Politics and Law in Beijing and participant in the New Citizen Movement, a loose grouping of rights activists.
Teng, currently a visiting scholar at Chinese University in Hong Kong, said being named singled out by the bar was like being on a “hall of fame” for human rights lawyers, adding that the move reflected the association’s resentment towards these activists.
“This could well be an indication that they will severely crack down on human rights lawyers,” he said.