[JURIST] Chinese officials from Beijing's Civil Affairs Bureau on Friday shut down [press release, in Chinese] the legal research center of the Gongmeng [advocacy website, in Chinese] human rights group. Officials confiscated computers and other equipment, telling staff that the center was not properly registered [AP report]. A lawyer for Gongmeng said that the research center was part of Gongmeng, which is properly registered. A statement from Gongmeng called the Civil Affairs Bureau's actions "illegal." Also this week, the Chinese government suspended the licenses of 53 lawyers [press release, in Chinese] in Beijing, including prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, for failing to pass an assessment or failing to register. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] condemned the action, saying:
There are only a tiny group of lawyers left in China who are brave enough to take the risk of representing victims of human rights violations. A further crackdown against human rights lawyers is a major blow not only to these legal professionals but to the human rights defence [sic] movement in China.
These two actions are viewed by many human rights activists as an attempt by the Chinese government to quash dissidence [Reuters report] as the 60th anniversary of Communist rule approaches in October.
Gongmeng has recently gained notoriety by representing the families of children who were sickened by tainted milk [JURIST news archive]. In January, lawyers for the families of 213 Chinese children sickened or killed by melamine-contaminated milk petitioned the Supreme People's Court [official website, in Chinese], China's highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition seeks more than $5 million in compensation [Shanghai Daily report] from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in a government-sanctioned payout plan [JURIST report]. News of possible milk powder contamination by the chemical melamine first broke in September [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders. The Chinese Health Ministry has attributed the deaths of six children to the contamination, and at least 294,000 other children have been affected.