Chinese government said it may strip two mainland human rights lawyers of their practising license following their involvement in the case of the “Hong Kong 12”, according to an official letter the lawyers received on Monday.
“Hong Kong 12” refers to the group of pro-democracy activists who were arrested by the Chinese authorities while trying to flee the city for Taiwan by boat.
Ren Quanniu, said mainland authorities warned him in September, telling him that taking on the case of the Hong Kong 12 could imperil his license.
Ren, 40, showed Reuters a letter from the Henan province justice department accusing him of violating regulations over a case he took in 2018 representing a defendant in a religious matter.
The second lawyer, Lu Siwei, received a letter informing of administrative punishment proceedings against him, as the Sichuan province’s Department of Justice accused him of “publishing inappropriate speech online”.
The two lawyers were appointed by two families of the Hong Kong 12 to represent them in their trial in mainland China but both were denied access by Chinese authorities and the 12 were instead given court appointed lawyers.
Ten of the 12 activists were sentenced last week by a court in Shenzhen to between seven months and three years in prison for illegal border crossing, while the two youngest were returned to Hong Kong for trial on charges related to anti-government protests last year.
The two lawyers said they had received official government letters telling them about the revocation of their licenses, and were given three days to appeal. Both said they intended to do so.
Both lawyers have been critical of China’s legal process, and say the license threat is linked to the case of the activists, which drew criticism from international rights groups and foreign governments.
Ren also recently represented Zhang Zhan, a citizen-journalist sentenced to four years in prison over her reporting on COVID-19 in Wuhan.
The letters were issued by the jurisdictions where the lawyers are based. If they lose their licenses, they will be unable to practise law in China.
In a letter from the justice department of Sichuan province seen by Reuters, Lu was accused of “making multiple inappropriate remarks online” over a long period of time, “severely damaging the image of the industry” and “causing negative impacts on society”.
“I have no regrets,” he told Reuters.
The Henan justice department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Sichuan justice department could not immediately be reached for comment.
Human rights lawyers in China are routinely targeted with jail terms and disbarment, and rights groups say such pressure has intensified in recent years under a crackdown on dissent under President Xi Jinping. (Source: CNA)