Authorities in China are moving to strike off two lawyers who defended 12 Hong Kong protesters jailed last week for “illegally crossing a border” after they tried to flee to Taiwan by speedboat.
Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu received notification on Monday that their licenses were being reviewed by their local judicial affairs bureaus because they had “posted inappropriate remarks” online.
Lu said he had received a notice dated Jan. 4 from the provincial department of justice in the southwestern province of Sichuan informing him that his license will be revoked over his “inappropriate remarks,” which had broken Chinese law and professional guidelines for lawyers.
“At about 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2021, a staff member who claimed to be Xu Kai from the Sichuan provincial justice department came to my home and called me, saying he needed to serve me with a notification of investigation,” Lu said in a post published on the Weiquanwang rights website on Monday.
“He said they were going to investigate my inappropriate remarks [and that] the case had been filed,” he wrote.
“The notice clearly shows that the Sichuan provincial justice department intends to revoke my license to practise law on the grounds that I made inappropriate comments on the internet,” Lu said. “When I got back home in the afternoon, I found that they had actually posted the same notice on my door.”
Lu said his WeChat account had been blocked from noon. “I am unable to send any messages,” he wrote, adding that he was “in shock” at the decision.
Lu said he would submit a request for a hearing, but that the government had likely abused their powers in moving straight to an administrative punishment with no chance for a defense.
“The punishment that Sichuan provincial justice department plans to impose on me is suppression and persecution for no good reason,” he wrote.
Lu, who was never allowed to visit his client Quinn Moon in Yantian Detention Center in Shenzhen, despite being hired by her family, has the right to make a statement in his own defense, and must file a request for a disciplinary hearing within three days.
Lu was particularly vocal in the months following the initial detention of the 12 protesters aged 16 to 33 by the China Coast Guard on Aug. 23, repeatedly commenting about his attempts to gain access to his client, to no avail.
‘Violating Chinese law’
Meanwhile, authorities in the central province of Henan sent a similar notice to lawyer Ren Quanniu, who was hired by the family of Wong Wai-yin.
The Dec. 31 notice from the provincial justice department said it had investigated Ren on Dec. 21, and decided to revoke his license for “violating Chinese law and professional guidelines for lawyers.”
It gave no further details. Ren has the same right to a hearing as Lu, although in practice such hearings are of little use to the lawyer concerned.
Ren told RFA by message that he felt shocked by the announcement, which he described as “sudden.”
“I’ll have to see what can be done; it’s pretty lawless,” he wrote in response to a request for comment.
Save 12 Hong Kong Youths, a concern group representing the families of the 12 detainees, issued a statement condeming the move as “relatiatory persecution.”
“The move was “obviously targeting two lawyers who dared to … insist on defending the basic rights of 12 Hong Kong people,” the group said.
“They are now punishing them by destroying their livelihoods,” it said.
The group said the families once more thanked Lu, Ren, and the other defense attorneys who were denied access to their Hong Kong clients.
Making an example
Du Song, director of the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is making an example of Ren and Lu, who played a key role speaking out about a politically sensitive case.
“Lu put a lot of effort into [this] case, and has handled a number of very sensitive cases in the past,” Du said.
She said some of the lawyers hired by family members of the Hong Kong 12 had already withdrawn from the case after intense political pressure from the authorities.
“In this case, they are officially striking off these lawyers, trying to scare off any other lawyers from taking human rights cases,” she said.
Rights lawyer Lin Qilei described Lu Siwei as a fearless defender of human rights.
“Lu Siwei bravely stood up and accepted this case, to ensure [Quinn Moon] had a defense,” Lin wrote. “What is even more commendable is that he made public new developments and details of each case without fear, and responded to the concerns of the international media and human rights institutions.”
“These actions clearly angered the Chinese … authorities,” he said.
Ten are sentenced, two are freed
On Dec. 31, 2020, a court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong handed down jail terms of up to three years to 10 of the 12 Hong Kong protesters detained on Aug. 23 as they tried to flee a national security crackdown in the city, on charges linked to “illegally crossing a border.”
The Yantian District People’s Court in Guangdong’s Shenzhen city sentenced Tang Kai-yin to three years’ imprisonment for “organizing others to cross a border illegally,” while fellow activist Quinn Moon was jailed for two years on the same charge, the court said in an announcement on its Weibo account.
“On the morning of December 30th, our court publicly sentenced Deng Jiran [Tang Kai-yin] and nine others,” the statement said.
“Deng Jiran was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for “organizing others to cross the border illegally” and fined 20,000 yuan,” it said. “Qiao Yingyu [Quinn Moon] was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 yuan.”
It said fellow defendants Cheng Tsz-ho, Cheung Chun-fu, Li Tsz-yin, Andy Li, Wong Wai-yin, Kok Tsz-Lun, Jim Man-him, and Cheung Ming-jyu were each jailed for seven months each for “illegally crossing a border” and fined 10,000 yuan each.
“The [eight above defendants] were accomplices in jointly committed crimes, and were therefore given lighter sentences,” the court said.
The sentences mean that even those handed more lenient sentences won’t get out of jail until March.
The remaining two detainees — Liu Tsz-man and Hoang Lam-fuk — were sent back to Hong Kong after the authorities said they wouldn’t pursue charges against them, as they were under 18 at the time of their detention.
Liu could still face charges of arson and skipping bail, while Hoang faces the same charges as well as a charge of “possession of an offensive weapon” linked to last year’s protest movement.
All 12 were consistently denied access to defense attorneys hired by their families and allocated government-approved attorneys to represent them at a trial that was effectively held behind closed doors.
Since beginning a nationwide crackdown in July 2015, authorities in provinces and cities across China have conducted large-scale purges of lawyers deemed not to be toeing the party line, with hundreds losing their licenses in Hunan alone in September 2020.
Reported by Gigi Lee and Cheng Yut Yiu for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.