The cancellation of Beijing-based Chinese human rights lawyer Lin Qilei’s license by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice is highly regrettable and exposes the hollowness of Xi Jinping’s call for judicial reforms and establishment of rule of law when he first took over the presidency in 2012.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) urges China to reinstate Lin Qilei’s license at the earliest as it is individuals like him who shoulders China’s rights-defence system necessary for the rule of law to prevail in China.
The third lawyer of the Hong Kong 12 to get his license revoked, Lin defended 18 year old Hong Kong university student Kok Tse-Lun, one of the 12 activists arrested in August 2020 for allegedly attempting to escape Hong Kong on a speed boat to Taiwan amid a crackdown by Beijing on pro-democracy activists. Lu Siwei’s and Ren Quanniu’s licenses were revoked in January and February this year respectively.
Lin is known for defending cases viewed as sensitive by the government in his more than a decade long career involving fellow human rights lawyers, persecuted religious groups, environmentalists, democracy activists and ordinary people fighting for human rights and dignity.
The Tibetan language rights activist Tashi Wangchuk who was released in January 2021 after serving five years in prison and the environment and anti-corruption activist A-nya Sengdra currently serving seven years in prison, were both represented by Lin Qilei.
Lin has stood up for fellow lawyers after the mass crackdown on human rights defenders across China in July 2015 that came to be known as 709 crackdowns in which more than 200 defenders were detained.
On 10 November 2015, Lin was prevented from leaving China for reasons of ‘state security’, a blanket term used to justify complete disregard for law.
Lin has defended Guo Feixiong, a human rights legal activist and a barefoot lawyer associated with the Weiquan movement. Lawyers of the Weiquan movement offered legal aid to Tibetans during the March 2008 protest that saw hundreds of Tibetans detained.
TCHRD published a special report to pay tribute to Chinese lawyers defending Tibetan rights activists.
The harassment and intimidation involved in Lin’s case is both psychological and material, affecting his family and those he represents. Lin’s wife has stated in a video in 2018 that she lives in constant state of worry whenever he is away.
The lawyer’s law firm Beijing Ruikai has met with rejection during the annual assessment in 2018 and finally debarred in April 2021. This means that Lin is not able to charge for his service even when he could.
The bureau’s notice said the lawyer may approach the municipal government for administrative review and file an administrative lawsuit with the Beijing Tongzhou Court if not satisfied with the decision.
Lin Qilei has said he has lost confidence in the law but must appeal as there is no other recourse.
Lin expressed similar sentiment when interviewed for the TCHRD Special Report titled, Barriers to Exercising Right to a Fair Trial in Tibet, published in July 2020.
“The Chinese court is only a department of the Party, that is, as many said, the hilt of a knife. It does not and cannot have an open and fair trial system. It only strikes hard on democracy and human rights activists ‘according to the law’.”
China’s Plan on Building the Rule of Law in China (2020–2025) published in August 2021, purports to “improve the protection mechanism for defenders and litigation agents to exercise litigation rights”.
Under “main principles”, the plan said China will “strengthen the protection of human rights and the rule of law, the property and rights of citizens, legal persons and other organizations shall not be restricted or deprived for legal reasons and without legal procedures.”
The revocation of Lin Qilei and other human rights lawyer’s licenses in recent times will cripple China’s already weakened rights-defense system and further increase the barriers to exercising right to a fair trial and seeking legal redressal, especially for the legally discriminated “ethnic minorities”.