China's Ministry of Justice announced on Wednesday that lawyers who plan to renew or obtain their legal license must swear allegiance to the Communist Party of China (CPC) within three months of receiving their legal certificates.
I pledge to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission of a worker of the socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics, be loyal to the homeland, loyal to the people, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, reads a portion of the oath, the Associated Press reported.
The Chinese government believes the new law will force lawyers to raise their political, professional and moral standards, the BBC reports.
Since 2010, the CPC and the Chinese government announced that oath-taking ceremonies would be considered an important step toward promoting lawyers' integrity, reported Xinhua News.
Recently, many lawyers have had their licenses revoked or have personally been detained by Chinese authorities for defending activists and political dissidents.
Since the recent anti-government uprisings in the Middle East, the Chinese government has shown little tolerance for government criticism and human rights activism. Lawyers have also become targets of this repression.
From artists such as Ai Weiwei, who was detained and imprisoned by Chinese authorities in April 2011, to human rights activists such as the blind Chen Guangcheng, who is under house arrest for preaching against the one-child policy, critics of the Chinese government see 2011 as one of the most repressive years since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
The ministry's move indicates that China is continuing and possibly increasing its policies that limit free-speech rights.
It is ridiculous for such a thing to occur in modern society, human rights lawyer and AIDS activist Jiang Tianyong said. It's unimaginable that any other country would like to ask lawyers to pledge allegiance to a party. Lawyers should respect laws and uphold the rights of their clients.
As a lawyer, you should only pay attention to the law and be faithful to your client, another rights lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters.
Critics suggest that the new policy encroaches on a lawyer's principles and duty. But given that China's government structure is intertwined with the CPC, the mandatory oath of allegiance indicates that long-unspoken official policies are becoming more spoken.