World and Nation

Chinese lawyers chafe at new oath to communist party

BEIJING — China’s Justice Ministry has issued a requirement that new lawyers and those reapplying for licenses swear an oath of loyalty to the Communist Party, another step in a campaign to rein in lawyers who continue to challenge the political and legal systems by which the party maintains power.

The Justice Ministry posted the oath on its website Wednesday. The core of it says: “I swear to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission of legal workers in socialism with Chinese characteristics. I swear my loyalty to the motherland, to the people, to uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system, and to protect the dignity of the constitution and laws.”

Several lawyers said the oath was the first they knew of to force them to pledge fealty to the Communist Party. China has been tightening controls over liberal voices for several years, prompted by fears of unrest during the 2008 Olympics, concerns that the Arab revolutions might inspire domestic dissent, heightened tensions with ethnic minorities like the Tibetans and the Uighurs, and the need for stability during this year’s leadership transition.

Rights lawyers say the controls have contributed to a severe rollback of legal reforms and are undermining efforts to strengthen the rule of law.

Chinese officials, and those overseeing the security apparatus in particular, have long been suspicious of lawyers’ efforts to ensure that everyone is protected equally under the law. The ability of lawyers to practice has been curtailed, and some have been punished, particularly those championing issues related to civil rights and political expression. During a broad security crackdown last year, some lawyers who were detained secretly say they were beaten and tortured.

Several prominent rights lawyers have been subjected to lengthy and sometimes unexplained detentions, including Gao Zhisheng, who was initially convicted for inciting subversion in 2006 and is now in prison in Xinjiang; Chen Guangcheng, who has been forcibly confined to his home in Shandong province with his wife and daughter since completing a four-year, three-month prison term in September 2010; and Jiang Tianyong, who said he was tortured during an illegal two-month detention last year.

On Wednesday, the Justice Ministry posted an explanation with the oath that said its goal was to, among other things, ensure that lawyers follow the core values of “loyalty, devotion to the people, justice and probity.”