Constitutional Lawyers: The “Taxman” Cometh

Several lawyers who handle human rights cases have been unable to renew their licenses, reports the Time China Blog. Yitong, a law firm with a high profile in defending human rights activists was reportedly closed down in June. Now, the Open Constitution Initiative is facing closure after a demand of tax-related payments which apparently broke the organization’s neck. The Open Constitution Initiative had been established as a private company to avoid restrictive laws on the formation of a non-governmental organization (NGO). The Time China Blog quotes from a statement by Teng Biao (滕彪) in reaction to the closure. Teng co-founded the Initiative in 2003.

Beijing tax authorities reportedly demand immediate payment of 1.42 million yuan (US$200,000) in unpaid taxes and related fines.

On a seminar held in Beijing on May 10, Teng Biao had pointed out that today’s efforts to transform the political system were based on the foundations of the 6-4 movement, but both because of a changed political environment, and because of the existence of the internet, addressed relevant cases such as copyright infringement, last year’s Sanlu milk powder scandal, the Weng’ An County incident one by one, in a much more diverse way, thus promoting the rule of law and human rights.

Ministry of Civilian Affairs officers raided the Initiative’s offices in Beijing on Friday morning, writes The Australian. The UNHCR website quotes from a statement by Human Rights Watch. The statement also mentions a notice from the Beijing Bureau of Legal Affairs issued earlier last week urging “caution” in their involvement in the defense of suspects linked to July 5 rioting in the city of Urumqi in China’s restive Xinjiang region. A similar notice had or prohibition had been issued to Beijing lawyers who wanted to represent Tibetans following the March 2008 protests in that region.

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, warns that people who lose all opportunities to seek justice within the judicial system can only take their cases to the street.

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