- Prominent human rights lawyers in China have accused the state of disbarring attorneys for taking on sensitive cases.
- The most recent controversy involves lawyers representing Hong Kongers attempting to flee to Taiwan after taking part in the 2019 protests and violating the controversial National Security Law.
- Officially, the lawyers are being disbarred for social media posts and other writings advocating their cases, a violation of 2016 regulations mandating they only speak about cases inside a courtroom.
- The attorneys allege that Chinese security officials have also prevented them from meeting with clients behind bars and giving proper legal consultation.
Chinese Defense Lawyers Need to Defend Themselves
Chinese human rights lawyers are fighting the state not only for their clients but for themselves.
Authorities are accused of targeting lawyers who take on particularly ‘sensitive’ cases in the country – notably those dealing with religious minorities or defending Hong Kong protesters.
Ren Quanniu, for instance, was disbarred in January after defending one of 12 Hong Kongers who attempted to escape the territory for Taiwan. The group was caught by the Chinese coast guard and faced criminal charges for crossing a Chinese border and taking part in the 2019 Hong Kong protests.
Ren is one of two lawyers representing clients from that incident who has since been disbarred. Throughout the process, authorities prevented Ren from visiting his client – a standard and necessary practice for lawyers. Police claimed Ren couldn’t provide any proof that his client, Wong Wai-yin, had hired Ren himself, despite the fact that Ren had video and written statements from Wong’s family stating that was the case.
In the end, Ren was removed from the case after he was informed by the court that Wong had reportedly acquired another lawyer.
Throughout the situation, Ren claims that he “received several calls from national security officers. They said they had high-level orders from Beijing that I had to drop this Hong Kong case or my lawyer’s license might be affected.”
In December Wong was found guilty of all charges. Shortly after Ren was given notice that he was facing disbarment. Officially, he was in violation of 2016 regulations that prevented lawyers from discussing their cases outside of the courtroom. The regulation has been selectively enforced as human rights lawyers have born the brunt of violations of those regulations. It’s common for lawyers to speak and write about cases outside of the courtroom since they are advocates for their clients in court, to the media, and to the public.
Changing Tactics for Changing Regime
The move to disbar lawyers is a change in tactics, in multiple ways, by leader Xi Jinping. In the early 2000’s, China had a blossoming legal profession as courts became increasingly independent of the Communist Party and the rule of law began to take root. Many activist lawyers managed to bring serious cases to the limelight, such as one lawsuit that exposed tainted baby formula that led to food safety regulations.
At one point, American judges were invited to China to interact with their local counterparts and help implement some judicial independence.
However, since Xi’s rise to power, that has largely changed. He has centralized power and enforced an older style of government that sees the Communist Party as the bastion of what’s right and wrong, rather than the rule of law.
In 2015, he initiated a campaign that jailed or disqualified more than 200 of the country’s most aggressive legal advocates. After widespread backlash, he and the party changed course, implementing the 2016 regulations that removed lawyers through a softer approach.
The regulations to dissuade defense lawyers from taking politically sensitive cases makes the profession that much harder. The country had a 99.965% conviction rate as of 2018.
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”