China’s most prominent human rights (HR) lawyer is claiming that the Chinese authorities tried to kill him after they had closed his law firm. The matter raises questions about how liberal China’s legal market really is.
Gao Zhisheng, who has a similar reputation in China to UK lawyers such as Shami Chakrabarti or Clive Stafford Smith, had his law firm Shengzhi Law Office’s operations suspended for a year by the Chinese authorities in November 2005. According to Amnesty International, Gao claims police officers and military personnel made an attempt on his life while he was driving his car on 17 January.
The alleged attempt on his life came after Zhisheng, the firm’s director, sent an open letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao, calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong (an ancient Chinese spiritual movement) practitioners in China. It is believed that the firm’s closure was also linked with the letter.
The official reason given for the closure was that the firm failed to notify the authorities about its change of address.
Shengzhi Law Office is one of a small number of law firms in China to have taken on cases involving HR issues.
As well as campaigning for Falun Gong practitioners, the firm had also been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including a land dispute that has been recognised as a test case for local democracy in China.