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International Advocates for Justice supports Chinese rights lawyer
INTERNATIONAL ADVOCATES FOR JUSTICE
95-60 Queens Boulevard, Unit 127
Rego Park, NY 11374
We the undersigned write as human rights advocates, including law professors, attorneys and barristers, as well as UN special rapporteurs, to raise an issue with you that we find very distressing. We refer to the decision of the Chinese government a week ago to shut down the law firm of GAO Zhisheng. Although we are aware of your government's position that the firm was closed because it had failed to re-register with the authorities after moving into a new office, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom disputes this assertion. In a letter dated November 9, 2005, to President Bush, the Commission alleges that the firm was discriminated against because some of its clients included practitioners of the Falun Gung religion as well as an unregistered Protestant pastor. Amnesty International claims that the move to close the firm came shortly after the firm's director sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabo urging them to end the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China. We urge you to take note of the fact that lawyers all around the world and from time immemorial have issued statements and written letters on behalf of their clients, inasmuch as the practice of law is not confined to isolated courtrooms but instead takes place against a political background and context that implicate their clients' beliefs and practices.
We believe that lawyers have a professional obligation to defend accused persons no matter what the accusation might be. If the accused person is convicted, then the government benefits by being protected against accusations of violations of due process of law by pointing to the fact that the person had the services of legal counsel in mounting his or her defense. We write to you out of our conviction that defense of the rule of law is in your interest as a government just as it is in our interest as attorneys or members of organizations dedicated to the rule of law.
You are of course well aware of the international rules of law protecting religious freedom and a citizen's right to legal counsel of his or her choice. These principles and norms are affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and other relevant human rights instruments.
As the industrial and economic power of China grows, we believe that genuine respect for the political rights and religious freedoms of individuals will contribute to that growth through the autonomous workings of the market. Your own citizens will increasingly become the main consumers of products that you now trade to other countries, and China will become all the stronger because of it. When there is true diversity and freedom among consumers, they will feel a competitive urge to compete with each other in the market for goods and services. Your government's decision to allow Chinese citizens to buy gold for private use and savings is a model for all other governments to follow. It gives citizens a proprietary stake in the economic well-being of all of China. The same thing is true of extending to your citizens the full panoply of human rights and religious freedoms.
We feel a fundamental empathy with the ten lawyers who have been shut of work by the closing of GAO Zhisheng's law firm. These lawyers are truly "officers of the court" who have a professional obligation to serve not the client but the client's legitimate interests. We urge you to reconsider your decision and reinstate Mr. GAO's law firm's licence to practice law.
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