China to punish lawyers hired to help Hong Kong protesters

Lawyer Ren Quanniu (C), representing Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who reported on Wuhan's Covid-19 outbreak  - AFP
Lawyer Ren Quanniu (C), representing Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who reported on Wuhan's Covid-19 outbreak - AFP

Chinese authorities intend to revoke licences for human rights lawyers hired to help a group of Hong Kong protesters arrested in late August while trying to flee to Taiwan. 

Ten of the arrested protesters were convicted last week for illegal border crossing and organising the trip. A Chinese court sentenced them to prison for terms ranging from seven months to two years, and slapped fines of up to 15,000 yuan (£1,700). The remaining two, minors at the time of arrest, were ordered sent back to Hong Kong.

Two lawyers, Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu, were hired by the protesters’ families to assist in their defence, but both were barred by Chinese authorities from representing the activists. Instead, the 12 defendants were forced to use government-appointed lawyers. 

Mr Lu received a notice on Monday accusing him of “repeatedly posting inappropriate comments online,” without providing details. 

Mr Ren was reprimanded on Dec 31 via a similar notice, for allegedly mishandling a 2018 case when he represented a member of the Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned and persecuted in China. 

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Aside from being hired to represent the Hong Kong protesters, Mr Ren also recently represented Zhang Zhan, a Chinese citizen journalist, who was sentenced in late December to four years in prison, for reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

lawyers Ren Quanniu (L) and Zhang Keke, representing Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan - AFP

lawyers Ren Quanniu (L) and Zhang Keke, representing Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan - AFP

lawyers Ren Quanniu (L) and Zhang Keke, representing Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan - AFP

The 2018 case is being used “as a pretext to punish him,” said the families of the Hong Kong protesters in a statement. 

Both lawyers have been given three days to request a hearing to appeal, though it’s unlikely their efforts will be successful. China routinely pulls licences for lawyers involved in cases deemed politically sensitive – for instance over human rights, labour disputes, or ones critical of the government. 

“The Chinese authorities are using the case of Lu and Ren as an example to threaten other human rights lawyers, such that on one else would dare to participate in politically sensitive cases,” said the families of the Hong Kong protesters. 

Story continues

China has intensified a crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong since imposing a national security law on the city last summer. The law criminalises anything Beijing considers to be subversion, secession, terrorism or foreign collusion with up to life in prison. 

Authorities have disqualified opposition legislators and police have charged, investigated and imprisoned activists. A number of high-profile activists and politicians, including Nathan Law and Ted Hui, have sought exile abroad in the UK.

The recent sentences handed down to the Hong Kong protesters in China were posted online following a trial that UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned as secret. Although the court claimed the activists were tried in ‘open’ court, family members, Western diplomats and foreign journalists were turned away from attending on the day.

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