Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have struck off a human rights lawyer after he tried to represent one of the 12 Hong Kong protesters detained by the China Coast Guard as they tried to flee to the democratic island of Taiwan.
Ren Quanniu received a notice from the Henan provincial bureau of judicial affairs on Tuesday informing him that his license to practice had been revoked on the grounds that he "used a cult to undermine the law" in November 2018.
The letter said Ren had "seriously damaged the image of the legal profession" after he defended a member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been designated an "evil cult" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Ren said he didn't believe the reason stated in the letter was the main factor behind the decision, however.
"One factor was my involvement in the Hong Kong 12 case, which was much deeper [than in the other case]," he told RFA on Tuesday. "The other was [my defense of citizen journalist] Zhang Zhan."
"I gave a lot of media interviews about those two cases, so I think they are more likely to have been the main reasons," Ren said.
Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have already suspended the license of fellow rights attorney Lu Siwei, citing his public comments on the case of the 12 Hong Kong activists detained at sea in August 2020.
Judicial authorities in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu moved on Jan. 4 to strike Lu off, alleging that he made "inappropriate remarks" in public about the case, thereby "breaking Chinese law and professional guidelines for lawyers."
None of the attorneys hired by the families of the 12 detainees was allowed to see their clients, who had lawyers appointed for them by the local government instead.
Ren also defended Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in December 2020 for posting reports from Wuhan during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the city.
She was found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), on the basis that she had published "false information" about the pandemic on social media sites.
Ren had given media interviews detailing her physical condition as she engaged in a hunger strike in protest at her treatment.
Ren, who is now effectively barred from working as a lawyer in China, said he has no regrets, however.
"I think that rights lawyers in mainland China should stand with the people of Hong Kong, even if it means that they wind up losing their licenses," Ren said. "Hong Kong people have always been at the forefront of Chinese people's hopes for their own society."
"So many paid a heavy price and were arrested, and the [authorities'] persecution [of activists] has been pretty serious," he said. "I had no hesitation [in taking the case] and felt we should do our best to help them."
Hong Kong rights lawyer Albert Ho, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said the suspension of Lu and Ren's licenses are the latest in a long litany of actions taken by the CCP against human rights lawyers in China, starting with a nationwide police operation in July 2015.
"If lawyers have no protection for their own rights, then how can they defend their clients' rights?" Ho said. "How does one defend disadvantaged groups who have no legal knowledge at all?"
"Things are moving towards a state of lawlessness [in China], slowly inching back towards the Cultural Revolution," he said, in a reference to an era of political violence and social turmoil from 1966 to 1976 under late supreme leader Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four.
Reported by Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.