Monday, December 11, 2006

Chinese pro bono lawyer gives hope to clients

Here is the timely and compelling story of Chen Bulie, a brave Chinese lawyer in the forefront of pro bono efforts in China:

Watching the lawyer Chen Bulei argue his case, it was easy to forget that he was almost certain to lose. Pacing confidently before a packed courtroom in the northeastern Chinese city of Haicheng earlier this year, he scored rhetorical points so deftly that sympathetic onlookers pumped their fists like fans at a sporting event. Chen's client, a 56-year-old talc miner named Zhao Jitian, was on trial for "assembling a mob to disrupt social order"—a politically charged criminal offense often invoked to silence Chinese citizens who band together to air grievances against their employers or the government. Police in Haicheng had arrested Zhao five months earlier after he took part in a demonstration with about 100 other laid-off employees of the Aihai Talc Company to demand benefits they claim the firm had illegally withheld for nearly eight years. It is exceedingly rare for defendants charged with political crimes in China to escape conviction. But with Chen in his corner, brandishing a pocket-sized copy of China's criminal code as he punched hole after hole in the prosecution's charges, it seemed Zhao just might walk out of the courtroom a free man.

We are so fortunate to have our civil liberties, including the right to assemble, that we often take them for granted. Maybe through the pro bono service of lawyers like Chen Bulie we can be reminded of the sacred value of liberty and our own civil rights. Thank a pro bono lawyer if you see one today.


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