Transparency As an Offence: Rights Lawyering for Open Government Information in China
The Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 12:2 (2017), pp 417-36
20 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2018 Last revised: 10 Jul 2018
Date Written: December 25, 2017
Rights lawyering has been developing in China over the past two decades or so. Chinese rights lawyers through social-legal activism have been a formidable social force in holding the state accountable to its rhetoric. This article examines three ways rights lawyers in China have used transparency as a tool to pursue legal activism and social campaigns: open government information (OGI) applications, on-line mobilization, and off-line action. The empirical material on which this article is based, in large part is drawn from a variety of data and materials, including 105 OGI requests made by lawyers between 2008 and 2015. For rights lawyers, transparency is both an end and a means to address a wide range of social-political issues. The article finds that the formal OGI institutions have created new legal opportunities and resources for rights lawyering, which has proved to be resilient in promoting government accountability and restraining the arbitrary exercise of public powers. However, the political vulnerability of legal institutions and their lack of political will and ability to accommodate the demands of civil society have given rise to extra-institutional and extra-legal mobilization in a variety of organized street actions by rights lawyers. The extra-institutional lawyering has provoked retaliation from the state, however, leading to further restrictions on lawyers’ right to know and crackdowns on rights lawyering.
Keywords: China, rights lawyers, transparency, OGI
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