Chinese Lawyer Ordered to Close Office for Supporting Falun Gong

A high-profile human and civil rights lawyer who urged state leaders to end their persecution of the banned Falun Gong sect has been ordered to close his practice for a year, he said yesterday.

“I was notified by the Justice Bureau yesterday that we have to stop operating for a year,” Gao Zhisheng said.

“If I don’t abide by this within a year, my personal freedom is likely to be restricted.”

After the 41-year-old lawyer wrote an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao last month calling for an end to the often brutal persecution of the spiritual sect, authorities met him several times to demand he withdraw his request.

“They demanded that I take back my open letter to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao,” he said. “I didn’t abide by that, so I received the notification to stop operating.”

Mr Gao, head of the Beijing-based Zhisheng Legal Office, said earlier he had investigated cases of torture of Falun Gong adherents, and decided to speak up.

Mainland authorities banned Falun Gong as “an evil cult” in 1999 after realizing it had grown to be hugely popular, with reportedly millions of believers and chapters throughout the country.

The central government considers Falun Gong the biggest threat to stability since the 1989 pro-democracy protests and has spent the past few years jailing group leaders, detaining believers and forcing them to renounce the sect.

Human rights groups say many members are tortured in custody, but few mainland lawyers have been bold enough to challenge the government.

Mr Gao – known for his courage in taking on politically sensitive cases that few other lawyers dare to handle – has been representing another lawyer involved in a high-profile land dispute in Taishi village, Guangdong Province. He was also fighting for the release of underground Christian pastor Cai Zhuohua and cyber-dissident Zheng Yichun, who had been sentenced to seven years in jail.

Separately, exiled dissidents and former 1989 democracy leaders Wang Dan and Wang Juntao have published an open letter urging the immediate release of political activist Xu Wanping, who has been in police custody for more than seven months.

Mr Gao had also wanted to represent Xu, but his effort to register with the authorities as the dissident’s lawyer was unsuccessful.

Xu, who had served eight years in prison for taking part in the 1989 democracy movement, was taken from his home in Chongqing in late March.

Police did not present any warrants when they took the activist away, but in May charged him with “incitement to subvert state power”, apparently a reference to his role in organizing a signature campaign related to an anti-Japan protest.

The New York-based Human Rights in China reported about two weeks ago that Xu would be put on trial soon.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Sunday Morning Post, via BBC Monitoring, Hong Kong
Nov. 7, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 7, 2005.
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