The US urges China to reinstate the licenses for Ren Quanniu and Lu Siwei, who represented pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong.
A second Chinese lawyer representing a pro-democracy activist from Hong Kong was revoked to practice, which alarmed rights groups and the US condemnation.
Ren Quanniu, who represented one of 12 Hong Kong activists who allegedly tried to flee to Taiwan by boat, said Tuesday that he had his license revoked by the Henan Provincial Justice Department.
Lu Siwei, who worked with Ren on the case, had his license revoked last month.
Ren and Lu said representing the members of the so-called “Hong Kong 12” was the trigger that deprived them of their right to practice.
The 12 activists tried to flee Hong Kong after China imposed a comprehensive national security law on the territory. They were caught at sea in August and, after months of detention without access to their families, 10 of them were sentenced in December by a court in Shenzhen to between seven months and three years in prison for illegally crossing the border and organizing their escape. Two other people under the age of 18 were returned to the custody of the Hong Kong Police.
Thousands of Hong Kong residents have fled the area since Beijing passed security laws last June to curb dissent in the semi-autonomous city. So far, more than 90 people have been arrested for national security violations and eight people have been charged, including media magnate Jimmy Lai, a prominent democracy activist, according to Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “deeply concerned” about the move to ban the two lawyers.
“We urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and immediately restore their legal qualifications,” Price wrote on Twitter.
We are deeply concerned about the attempts by the People’s Republic of China to ban and harass human rights lawyers Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu for the Hong Kong Mission 12. We urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and restore their legal qualifications once.
– Ned Price (@statedeptspox) February 2, 2021
The Henan Judicial Department held a license revocation hearing in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, on Friday, according to other lawyers who have come to support Ren. They weren’t allowed to attend the hearing.
Ren was told that comments made in 2018 on a case defending Falun Gong practitioners in court had “negative effects on society,” according to a statement from the Henan Justice Department that he presented to the media.
He told AFP news agency that the allegations against him were “unfounded”.
“If my license could be revoked under such circumstances, I think China’s legal system is dead,” he said. “Lawyers should be very aware that in the future it can be dangerous to refer to the law and the facts in court.”
Ren has years of experience dealing with politically charged human rights cases in China.
He has defended people associated with Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that China has labeled a cult that has been under attack since its followers protested in 1999 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Most recently, he represented citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in prison last December for trying to cover the situation in Wuhan City during the coronavirus pandemic outbreak earlier last year.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of NGOs, expressed concern about Ren and Lu’s lockdown.
“Persecuted activists and government critics are unlikely to find lawyers defending their legal rights these days,” it said.
“Human rights lawyers (in China) are again facing the eagerness of the authorities to refute them.”
After a mock hearing on January 29, authorities ordered Mr. RenQuanniu’s license to be revoked on February 2. Niu represented one of the “12 Hong Kong Demonstrators” captured by Chinese police at sea while trying to escape political persecution. https://t.co/YnnELeq9Ww https://t.co/2pKFL6V6ij
– CHRD Human Rights Defender (@CHRDnet) February 2, 2021
Frontline Defenders, an Ireland-based human rights group, called the action against Ren “unacceptable” and said it was “further evidence that the Chinese government’s” commitment to the rule of law is not genuine “.
The Henan authorities yesterday revoked human rights attorney Ren Quanniu’s license based on testimony given during a trial two years ago. This unacceptable measure is further evidence that the Chinese government’s commitment to the rule of law is flawed. https://t.co/DGovLK5II7
– Front Line Defender (@FLD_China) February 3, 2021
More than a dozen Chinese lawyers have canceled or revoked their licenses in recent years, which activists say is an effective silence by the authorities.