Authorities suspend license of jailed journalists’ lawyer

New York, March 1, 2005—Authorities in Shanghai have suspended the law license of Guo Guoting, defense attorney for three jailed journalists as well as a number of other dissidents and members of the Falun Gong religious sect. The suspension throws into question the defense of imprisoned writers Shi Tao, Zhang Lin and Huang Jinqiu.

The Shanghai Department of Justice on February 23 issued notice of a one-year suspension of Guo’s license to practice law, the lawyer told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The notice cited articles he has posted online criticizing the Communist Party. But Guo told CPJ that he believed he has been punished for taking up controversial cases involving freedom of expression and religion. City and district authorities have regularly warned Guo to stop his advocacy of political prisoners such as the imprisoned writers, he said.

“Journalists Shi Tao, Zhang Lin and Huang Jinqiu are in jail today because they wrote or distributed essays that offended the political leadership,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “The suspension of their defense attorney’s license, apparently for related reasons, points again to the failure of the Chinese government to accommodate criticism or to ensure adequate legal protection for those who express dissent.”

On February 22, before his license was revoked, Guo was barred from a scheduled visit to Zhang Lin, a dissident writer imprisoned since January 29 for articles he posted on overseas online news sites and Web sites related to the Falun Gong movement. Zhang was detained on his return to Anhui Province after traveling to Beijing to mourn the death of ousted leader Zhao Ziyang. While he was scheduled to be released after 15 days of administrative detention, Zhang is now being held in “criminal detention” under suspicion of “endangering state security” for articles he posted online calling for political reform.

On March 7, Guo was scheduled to attend a hearing to represent reporter Shi Tao, who is charged with “leaking state secrets to foreigners” for posting online a document related to the 15th anniversary of the military crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

The document was an abstract of a Central Propaganda Department circular issued to newspaper editors on April 20, 2004, warning that dissidents would be marking the anniversary. Guo has previously argued that the document, which had been distributed to editors at Shi’s Changsha newspaper Dangdai Shangbao, was pertinent public information and should not be classified as a state secret.

Guo was also the defense attorney for Internet journalist Huang Jinqiu, who was sentenced in September 2004 to 12 years in prison for “subversion of state power.”

With 42 journalists in prison on December 31, China was the leading jailer of journalists for the sixth consecutive year in 2004.