BEIJING (AP) — At least 260 Chinese lawyers signed an open letter of protest on Friday after a fellow attorney was detained by police for defying a judge by invoking the constitutional rights of free speech and religion in court.
Zhang Lei, a lawyer who drafted the open letter condemning the police action in the northeastern province of Jilin, said Zhang Keke was hauled away from the court on Thursday and detained for six hours over his statements in court while defending a member of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.
"How can a lawyer not speak of law in court? We have found it to be too absurd," Zhang Lei said. "It violated the basic rights of lawyers." The two Zhangs are not related.
Zhang Keke could not be reached for comment, but Zhang Lei said the lawyer had been warned by the judge not to invoke the law when defending his client.
"Although such an extreme act (of detaining a lawyer in court) would only happen in sensitive cases such as those involving Falun Gong members, a lawyer's right to defend (a client) should still be protected regardless of who is the defendant," Zhang Lei said.
China's Communist leaders have struggled to control grassroots spiritual movements, most notably the Falun Gong meditation movement that attracted millions of adherents before being suppressed in 1999.
A local police officer involved in the case, Jin Zhenyu, declined to be interviewed by phone.
Authorities have increasingly targeted China's rights lawyers, who have taken on politically sensitive issues and are staunch defenders of the rule of law. Many have had their law licenses revoked or have been jailed for their legal activism. In recent months, state media have accused rights lawyers of harboring ill political intentions instead of practicing their profession within China's legal framework.
The open letter also called on the government to honor its pledge to implement the rule of law.