China strips license from second lawyer for HK activists

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A second Chinese lawyer who represented a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist was stripped of his license on Tuesday as Beijing attempts to crush opposition to its tighter control over the territory.

Ren Quanniu, who represented one of 12 Hong Kong activists who tried to flee to Taiwan, said he had his license revoked by the Henan Provincial Justice Department.

Ten of the 12 activists caught at sea in August were sentenced by a Shenzhen court in December to prison terms ranging from seven months to three years for crossing the border illegally and organizing the crossings. The two other activists are minors.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents have fled the territory since Beijing’s imposition of a tough new security law that some say is destroying the territory’s Western-style civil liberties. Since the law was introduced in response to anti-government protests that began in 2019, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested or detained.

The Henan Judicial Department held a hearing on the license revocation on Friday in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, according to other lawyers who turned up to support Ren. They were not allowed into the hearing.

Ren is the second lawyer to have his license stripped by the authorities for handling the activists’ case. Two weeks ago, judicial officials in Sichuan took away the license of Lu Siwei, another lawyer on the case.

The U.S. expressed concern over the decision to revoke the licenses of both lawyers.

“We’re deeply concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s attempts to disbar and harass human rights lawyers Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu for representing the Hong Kong 12,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department in a statement issued on Twitter on Wednesday.

“We urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and to reinstate their legal credentials at once.”

Ren was told that comments he made in court in a case in 2018 defending Falun Gong practitioners had caused a “negative impact on society,” according to a notice from the Henan Justice Department that he showed to The Associated Press.

An official who answered the phone at the Henan Justice Department declined to comment on the case, saying they did not deal directly with media.

Ren has years of experience in handling politically human rights cases in China. He has defended people affiliated with the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement which China has labeled a cult and is the subject of persecution after its followers protested in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1999.

Most recently, he represented citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in prison last December for attempting to report on the situation in the city of Wuhan during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic early last year.

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