China Orders Law Firm Linked to Hong Kong 12 to Dissolve

A law firm linked to the case of 12 Hong Kong activists jailed in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has announced it will shut down, while one of the defense attorneys who spoke out about the case has been issued with a travel ban, RFA has learned.

Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu both had their licenses to practise law revoked earlier this year after they were hired by two of the defendants’ families.

The activists were intercepted by the China Coast Guard on Aug. 23, 2020 as they tried to flee Hong Kong. They are believed to have been heading for the democratic island of Taiwan.

Lu and Ren spoke regularly to the media about being barred from meeting with their clients, and about the huge political pressure brought to bear on their colleagues by local ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.

Now, Ren’s law firm, the Henan Railway Law Firm, has announced it will close, he told RFA on Monday.

“Our boss was told by a vice chairman of the [CCP-controlled] lawyers’ association on behalf of the bureau of judicial affairs that all of our lawyers are required to transfer to other firms, and that the firm must dissolve of its own free will,” Ren said.

The law had been a last bastion of public interest and human rights cases in China, where the CCP has been clamping down on this segment of the legal profession since launching a nationwide campaign of arrests and investigations in July 2015.

Ren said the closure was linked to the revocation of his license.

“Under normal circumstances, if a lawyer in a firm has their license revoked, the firm has to reapply or submit files within a specified period of time on who is reapplying to be a partner,” he said.

“Normally, if the application is in order, they should reissue the law firm’s license within 20 working days, but they wouldn’t do that for us,” he said. “They used this as a way to force us to dissolve.”

“The whole point is to stop the firm from staying together, because they say [our cases] are too sensitive,” Ren said.

Barred from travel

Meanwhile, Lu has been barred from leaving China, despite plans to study in the United States after his license was revoked.

“I wanted to take an English course at the University of Montana,” Lu said. “I would have needed a few months’ study because my English isn’t up to standard yet.”

Lu said he was originally scheduled to apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, but that state security police had told him he is now under a travel ban, and should forget about trying to go overseas.

“They told me not to go,” he said. “They said they wouldn’t let me leave the country, so there was no point in getting a visa.”

“This is definitely illegal.”

Lu said the case of the 12 Hong Kong activists had likely contributed to this outcome.

“At the very least, the Hong Kong case was a very important factor,” he said. “Now they are doing follow-up stability maintenance.”

“They are not going to let up. They have destroyed my ability to make a living, and any other option I might have come up with — it’s all gone,” Lu said.

Livelihoods destroyed

Du Song, director-general of the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, believes that the authorities’ methods of maintaining stability have wiped out the dignity of lawyers.

“The authorities have destroyed their livelihoods, as well as the professional dignity of people in that industry,” Du told RFA. “These lawyers used to work on sensitive cases, and now this has led to the closure of a law firm.”

“How many lawyers are likely to take on sensitive cases in future?”

“The ability to hire a lawyer will be compromised, so there will be nobody to ensure that [the authorities] follow the rules, which the lawyers should have been able to do,” Du said.

Lu and Ren both received notification around New Year that their licenses were being reviewed by their local judicial affairs bureaus because they had “posted inappropriate remarks” online.

Lu, who was never allowed to visit his client Quinn Moon in Yantian Detention Center in Shenzhen, despite having been hired by her family, 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.

Judicial authorities in the central province of Henan sent a similar notice to Ren, who was hired by the family of Wong Wai-yin but similarly prevented from carrying out his instructions, and revoked his license a few weeks later.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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