BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese authorities have shut down a Beijing law firm known for its human rights work and efforts to confront corrupt officials, the head of the company and a rights group said Thursday.
Yitong Law Firm was closed down for six months on Tuesday for allowing a lawyer to practise without a license, said Li Jinsong, who heads the company.
"This was just a pretext," Li told AFP.
"The main reason they wanted to close us down is that some corrupt leaders are trying to protect their names and don't want us to bring cases against them," he said.
The agency that issued the order, the judicial department in the Beijing district of Haidian, declined comment.
The firm has handled hundreds of cases dealing with the violation of the rights of ordinary citizens by allegedly corrupt local-level officials, Li said, adding that more than ten lawyers are now out of work.
Yitong has taken up the cases of a number of high-profile Chinese dissidents, including Hu Jia who won the European Parliament's top human rights award last year but is currently serving a three-and-a-half year jail term for inciting subversion.
The firm also represented Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist jailed for four years in 2006 after campaigning against forced abortions and sterilisations under the "one child" population control policy.
Li said he was unsure the firm would be able to reopen after the ban ends.
New York-based Human Rights in China said the firm may have been punished because some of its lawyers had signed an appeal in August 2008 calling for direct elections in the Beijing Lawyers Association, a government administered body.
"The six-month shutdown sends a chilling warning to all lawyers that the authorities will not tolerate any perceived challenges to their power," HRIC director Sharon Hom said in a statement.
"This is not the path to a rule of law," she said.
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