by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BEIJING, China– The Chinese Ministry of Justice announced Wednesday in a statement on its website that all attorneys in China will from now on be required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.
According to the statement, attorneys must take the oath within 3 months of receiving or renewing their certificate of practice.
The oath reads in part as follows: “I pledge to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission of a worker of the socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics, be loyal to the homeland, loyal to the people, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China…”
The Justice Ministry statement explains that the purpose of the oath is improve the “political, moral and professional quality” of China’s attorneys.
However, the oath has come under heavy criticism from many of China’s leading human rights lawyers.
Human rights attorney Pu Zhiqiang told the Financial Times that the oath was potentially problematic in that many of the leaders of the Communist Party often break the law. Therefore, Pu reasoned that pledging loyalty to both the party and the law will in some cases create a conflict for Chinese attorneys.
According to another prominent human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, the existence of such an oath in modern society is “ridiculous.” Jiang was detained for two months last year by the Chinese authorities for his work defending aids activists and advocates of religious freedom. He believes that the oath is out of tune with international norms and that it will likely interfere with lawyer’s duties to their clients.
The new oath, which is the first of its kind for Chinese attorneys, has widely been decried as just another tool for restricting human rights lawyers. However, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency the Chinese authorities have repeatedly hinted at the likelihood that such an oath would be implemented at some point in time. In 2000, the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), an organization which carries out professional administration of all lawyers in China, proposed the adoption of a similar oath. However, the ACLA’s proposal never came to fruition. In September 2010, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council both suggested that loyalty oaths would be important to “improving lawyers’ integrity.”
Efforts by Chinese lawmakers to “modernize” the Chinese legal system often come under criticism for taking one step forward and two steps back as national security concerns and the desire to maintain the hegemony of the Communist Party often undermine the rule of law.
In recent years, the Chinese Government has worked hard to encourage the development of modern Chinese business law.
However, civil liberties, human rights and other politically sensitive subjects are not protected by law in China. Lawyers who represent clients in these matters often face harassment, jail time, lose their licenses or are “disappeared.” Some prominent human rights attorneys and activists have also allegedly been tortured by the Chinese authorities.
The loyalty oath comes against the background of increasing repression of lawyers and activists as part of an attempt by China’s expansive security apparatus to prevent Arab Spring-inspired protests in the run-up to this year’s transfer of political power to a younger generation of Communist Party leaders. The Chinese Government has also drastically increased spending on its police, militia and other security forces to an announced $111 billion for 2012. This amount surpasses China’s official military budget, which is steadily rising and is second only to that of the United States.
For more information, please see:
New York Times — Chinese Lawyers Chafe at New Oath to Communist Party — 22 March 2012
ABC News — China Says Lawyers Must Swear Allegiance to Party — 21 March 2012
BBC News — Lawyers in China to Swear Allegiance to Communist Party — 21 March 2012
Financial Times — China Tightens Grip on Lawyers — 21 March 2012
Reuters — China Orders Lawyers to Pledge Allegiance to Communist Party — 21 March 2012
Xinhua News — China’s Lawyers to Swear Their Professional Loyalty — 21 March 2012