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China 1 March 2005

Lawyer for several journalists and cyberdissidents harassed and facing a professional ban

Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage after courageous lawyer Guo Guoting, who has defended several journalists and cyberdissidents facing harsh prison sentences, was warned he is to be banned from practising law.

A few days before he received notice of the ban, Justice Department officials in Shanghai, eastern China, searched his offices, on 23 February 2005, and seized his computer and lawyer’s licence.

"This case shows very well that the Chinese government has no desire to respect the rule of law. By banning Guo Guoting from following his profession, the authorities are also denying journalists and cyberdissidents of their fundamental right to be defended," the worldwide press freedom organisation said in a letter to Justice Minister, Zhang Fusen.

The lawyer told Reporters Without Borders that the seizing of his computer and his licence was a form of "theft". He had been warned that the ban would last one year. A hearing will take place in Shanghai on 4 March to confirm the ban.

He said the decision followed pressure from Beijing to prevent him from defending journalist Shi Tao, whose trial in Changsha for "illegally divulging state secrets abroad" is to be held behind closed doors on 7 March. Despite this, Guo Guoting was still planning to attend court with a colleague.

Guo Guoting, also known as Thomas Guo, said the Shi Tao case was based on a poorly defined law on state secrets. The interpretation of and concept of so-called secrets was very vague so it was easy for the authorities to apply this law to journalists expressing themselves too freely.

Guo Guoting is one of very few Chinese lawyers prepared to defend journalists and cyberdissidents. He recently took on the cases of dissident journalist Yang Tianshui, just released after a month in prison in Hangzhou in the southeast, and of cyberdissident Huang Jinqiu, sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2004. Guo Guoding recently brought to international attention the fact that Huang Jinqiu was tortured to prevent him from bringing an appeal before the supreme court.

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