China's Justice Ministry has for the first time ordered lawyers to take a loyalty oath to the Communist Party, in a move that is raising the ire of human rights lawyers who defend critics of the authoritarian Beijing government.
In a notice posted Wednesday on its Website, the ministry said first-time applicants and lawyers seeking to renew their licenses will be required to take an oath.
The oath requires lawyers to “pledge to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission of a legal worker under the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.” It also demands that they “be loyal to the motherland, loyal to the people, uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system.”
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang tells VOA's Mandarin service that confusion has long surrounded directives from the Communist Party's Politics and Law Committee.
“For instance, we often face the problem of whether the Communist Party's Politics and Law Committee represents the Party when it gives directions in regard to public security, procuratorial and legal work. If so, we as lawyers are indeed interfered with in our legal activities.”
Chinese authorities in recent years have stepped up pressure on activist lawyers who represent clients in some of the country's most politically sensitive rights cases.
In 2011, as democracy protests spread across North Africa and parts of the Middle East, Beijing moved to detain dozens of human rights lawyers without charge, in a push to head off possible anti-authoritarian protests in the capital and other major Chinese cities.
The detentions include those of prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, renowned artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel laureate Liu Xiabao. Gao was detained without charges for more than a year and then returned to prison in December 2011 for allegedly violating terms of an earlier probation.
Activist Ai was arrested in April 2011 and held incommunicado for weeks before authorities announced charges of economic crimes. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for allegedly inciting subversion of state power after he published a manifesto for democratic changes in China.