By MIN LEE
Associated Press Writer
HONG KONG - Mainland Chinese lawyers known for defending rights have been unable to get their licenses renewed ahead of an annual deadline, a Hong Kong group said Friday.
China Human Rights Lawyers' Concern Group chairman Albert Ho identified three of the lawyers at a news conference in Hong Kong on Friday, and said there were others whom he didn't want to name because he didn't want to jeopardize their status.
Ho said it wasn't clear exactly how many lawyers were still unable to renew their licenses before the Saturday deadline.
The three lawyers who Ho said agreed to be identified were Teng Biao and Li Heping from Beijing and Zhang Jiankang from the northern city of Xian.
In a separate statement, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch named another lawyer, Jiang Tianyong. It said Teng and Jiang had both offered to represent Tibetans and had "distinguished records of defending civil and human rights cases."
Ho said originally a larger group of more than 500 lawyers from 10 law firms in different parts of China could not get their licenses renewed, but a "substantial" number of them - but not all - were able to do so after the lawyers issued a letter on the Internet drawing attention to the issue.
He said the affected firms were mostly "activist" ones known for defending rights. Some represented Tibetans detained in the Chinese crackdown on riots in Tibet in March, he said.
Human Rights Watch said judicial authorities in Beijing had summoned the heads of law firms whose lawyers had offered legal assistance to Tibetans and asked that they be fired.
Ho said China's annual license renewal for lawyers should be abolished because it is prone to political influence.
Ong Yew Kim, a legal expert and adviser to the China Human Rights Lawyers' Concern Group, said the annual renewal system was designed to achieve ideological control.
"The main purpose of this system isn't to regulate the conduct of lawyers, but to regulate whether lawyers are obedient, whether they fully support the Chinese Communist Party's policies. If the government thinks you're not obedient, it will use the annual renewal system to get rid of you," Ong said.
A man who answered the phone at China's Ministry of Justice said no one was available for comment.
Though he didn't mention any lawyers by name, David Kramer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human Rights and labor, said Tuesday he brought up the case this week in Beijing as the U.S. and China met for human rights talks for the first time in six years.