This article was first published on the China Change website on August 13, 2018
On August 9, the Beijing Justice Bureau issued a decision to cancel lawyer Cheng Hai’s license. Six months ago in February, the bureau canceled the registration of his small Beijing Wutian Law Firm, claiming that the firm had not accepted the annual review on schedule. According to China’s Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers, a lawyer’s license is revoked if they’re not hired by a firm for six months.
On August 10, lawyer Cheng Hai filed an Application for Administrative Review, which shows that the authorities were committed to having him disbarred, and refused to view contrary evidence. The application shows that Cheng Hai signed an employment contract with the Beijing Liangzhi Law Firm on July 30, and delivered his proof of new employment to the Justice Bureau of Beijing Mentougou District, which oversees the new firm. On August 5, he again mailed the same proof of employment to the Beijing Justice Bureau via EMS. His mail was returned. The authorities, by returning his documents, claim that they received no proof, and thus acted to disbar him.
The disbarment of Cheng Hai is part of the Chinese government’s broad, systematic effort to take human rights lawyers off the field. Those implicated in the 709 Crackdown, whether the detained lawyers or lawyers who signed up to defend their detained colleagues have been the primary targets. Cheng Hai has represented lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been held well over 1,000 days now without trial.
The Beijing Justice Bureau is using the same method to keep lawyer Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun, both 709 detainees, from returning to practice: their previous firm, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, is no more, and new firms intent on hiring them were pressured not to accept them. Once the six-month period expires, they will also lose their licenses.
Since January 2018, at least 20 human rights lawyers have been disbarred — including Sui Muqing, Xie Yanyi, Li Heping, Wen Donghai, and Yu Wensheng — or caught in limbo and unable to practice, such as lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan.
The 64-year-old Cheng Hai is known for his dogged pursuit of the law as written, and he holds the authorities to it. He will exhaust all options provided by the law to defend his right to practice and to expose the unscrupulous behaviors of the government.
Cheng Hai was originally trained as an economist and later began practicing law in Beijing in 2000. In 2008 he was one of the five lawyers who called for direct elections at the Beijing Lawyers Association, and over the years has taken part in elections of district-level people’s representatives as an independent candidate. He has defended clients in many religious freedom cases and has challenged rulings of reeducation-through-labor cases. During the New Citizens Movement trials in 2013-2014, he represented Ding Jiaxi, a lawyer-turned-activist.
One lawyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, commented on the wave of disbarments that has been striking against and eroding the community of human rights lawyers in China: “If there is no fundamental progress toward the rule of law, these brave lawyers who dare to defend human rights will inevitably be eliminated. The newer regulations on the management of lawyers are meant to remove those who seek change and keep only those who submit to the authorities. You can’t really call them lawyers.”