The legal research center whose lawyers are well-known for taking on human rights cases in China said it has been shut down by Beijing officials, drawing condemnation from international campaigners. Around 20 officials from Beijing's Civil Affairs Bureau arrived at the offices of the center on 17 July and confiscated computers and other equipment. No one from the Beijing's civil affairs bureau, which carried out the raid and seized files and computers, according to the state-run China Daily, was immediately available for comment.
Xu Zhiyong, one of Gongmeng's lawyers, told AP yesterday that the legal center was a department within Gongmeng, which he said was properly registered. Office manager Tian Qizhuang was quoted by AP as saying: “We didn't want to resist them, but what they are doing violates the law. Shutting us down is the same as shutting down Gongmeng.”
Lawyers from Gongmeng have become well-known for their pioneering work in public welfare the organization offers legal aid and have been involved in several recent high-profile cases, including helping victims of the last year's tainted milk scandal get compensation. The Gongmeng group also published a bold and remarkable report in May challenging the official position that His Holiness the Dalai Lama “incited” the protests that broke out in Tibet in March 2008, and outlining key policy failings by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on Tibet. Earlier this week, the official Beijing Bureau of Legal Affairs also issued a notice to the city's lawyers urging "caution" in their involvement in the defense of suspects linked to July 5 rioting in the city of Urumqi, the capital of eastern Turkestan.
The raid came just one day after Beijing tax authorities demanded that OCI immediately pay 1.42 million yuan (US$200,000) in unpaid taxes and related fines, because it said the group had not paid taxes. The clampdown prompted condemnation from several rights groups.
There are more than 140,000 lawyers and 14,000 law firms in China but only a small proportion take the risk of taking on cases involving human rights violations, including providing legal assistance to Tibetans who were detained in connection with the March 2008 protests. Other cases these lawyers worked on involved Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression and families of victims affected by the baby milk powder scandal.