Mainland Chinese authorities have revoked the licence of a second human rights lawyer who was involved in the case of 12 Hong Kong fugitives captured at sea, with the counsel saying the move could deter others in his profession from taking up politically sensitive assignments.
Ren Quanniu, 40, told the Post he had no plans to quit the human rights legal circle, insisting he would turn to an assistant to “speak out against injustices done to others”.
The lawyer who has specialised in human rights for seven years was informed by Henan’s provincial Department of Justice on Tuesday that he had been disbarred, after judicial authorities similarly stripped his colleague Lu Siwei last month of his licence over “inappropriate speech made online”.
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Ren and Lu were among lawyers appointed by the family of the fugitives who insisted on representing their clients even though authorities had repeatedly requested them to drop the cases.
A notice by the Henan authorities to Ren, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, accused him of breaching lawyers’ regulations in a 2018 case in which he represented a follower of Falun Gong, a spiritual group regarded by the central government as a “cult organisation”. The notice, however, did not mention his involvement in the Hongkongers’ case.
“Ren repeatedly denied the nature of cult organisations as defined by the county, and interfered with the normal criminal proceedings,” the notice read. “[The act] seriously damaged the image of lawyers and caused obstructive social consequences.”
The judicial agency rejected Ren’s defence submission and decided to strip him of his practising licence after deliberations, it said.
Speaking to the Post before the hearing, which was held last Friday, the lawyer described the allegations as “completely fabricated”, claiming authorities used the 2018 case as a pretext for revoking his licence.
“It has been two years since the case finished. If I breached any regulations, they could have raised it at that time,” he said. “They did this because they can’t sort out any misconduct on my part in the Hongkongers’ case.”
He also believed the Henan authorities punished him to deter other mainland lawyers from getting involved in politically sensitive cases.
“If I knew my licence would be revoked anyway, I would have made last-ditch efforts to be more persistent and outspoken to speak up for [my clients’] rights. This is my regret,” he said.
“I had reservations to speak up for their rights, amid rounds of threats by the authorities.”
Since being hired by the family of Wong Wai-yin, one of the 12 Hong Kong fugitives arrested while trying to flee to Taiwan over their roles in anti-government protests, Ren claimed he was threatened by judicial officials on five occasions of dire consequences if he did not drop the case and refrain from speaking to the media.
He had lodged complaints against authorities over the lack of legal access given to the fugitives.
Wong was jailed for seven months in December. Nine others were given sentences ranging from seven months to three years’ in prison. Two underage suspects were returned to Hong Kong police.
All but one of the 12 fugitives, aged 16 to 33, had already been charged in Hong Kong with offences arising from the 2019 social unrest. Activist Andy Li has not been formally charged, but was arrested in August on suspicion of money laundering and collusion with foreign forces, an offence under the Beijing-imposed national security law.
Ren also defended Zhao Wei, a legal assistant arrested in connection with the “709 crackdown” in 2015, and Zhen Jianghua, a human rights activist sentenced to two years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” last year.
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