Two Chinese rights lawyers struck off after speaking out about the cases of 12 Hong Kong activists jailed after trying to escape to democratic Taiwan by speedboat have said they have no regrets about their actions.
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, and later 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.
"I have no regrets," Ren told RFA on Monday. "I think I did the right thing."
"We have a clear conscience about what we did, and now we have to start over: I do believe that there is a future for us," he said.
Lu said he couldn't have predicted he would end up in this situation.
"Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what your life will bring," he said. "You can make some plans, but there are still some certain events that will change your life."
"We were completely invested in doing law before this happened, and now we will have to give it all up," he 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.
No access to clients
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.
Ren said he hadn't immediately realized the sort of high-profile attention that the case of the 12 Hong Kong detainees would generate.
"I didn't think too much about it; it seemed like a pretty straightforward case to me," he said. "Then the ministry of justice and the state security police approached me and warned me off."
"When I tried to visit [my client in the detention center], I was accompanied by two state security police," he said. "So then I realized that it wasn't straightforward at all."
Lu said neither lawyer was obliged to take the case, however.
"We could have turned it down," he said. "It had turned into a very sensitive case, so much so that Shenzen wanted to get done with it before the Lunar New Year."
Ren said the decision to strip him of his license had left him with no illusions about the current political system.
"Before I was suspended, I still clung to some illusions about the state judicial system, that they cared about facts, and about the law," he said. "But there is nowhere for me to hide in this country; things just seem to get worse."
"This isn't just my personal misfortune; it is also a tragedy for the whole country and its citizens," he said.
Watching Hong Kong's slide with sorrow
He said he had watched the erosion of Hong Kong's civil liberties, political opposition and judicial independence with sorrow over the past few years.
"It's a tragedy that these good things are being smashed," he said. "But if you don't want to leave, or you can't leave, then there isn't any way out of it."
"All we can do is persevere in our pursuit of democracy, justice and universal values," he said.
United Nations human rights Special Rapporteurs recently wrote to the Chinese ambassador expressing concern about the continued arbitrary detentions of fellow rights attorneys Qin Yongpei and Chang Weiping, who are being held under "residential surveillance at a designated location," a form of enforced disappearance.
"[Qin] has defended other human rights lawyers and acted on behalf of protestors detained in connection with demonstrations against pollution allegedly attributable to State-owned mining companies," the Dec. 4, 2020 letter said.
"He has been a vocal critic on social media of alleged government corruption, human rights violations and abuse of power in China."
It said Chang "has been a vocal advocate for the rights of lawyers in China and the rule of law."
"In his work as a lawyer, he has defended cases of human rights defenders, discrimination based on health status, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation [and] has also provided pro bono legal counsel for victims of defective vaccines, as well as women, LGBT persons, and persons living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B who face discrimination in the workplace," the letter said.
U.N. human rights experts have also expressed concerns over curbs on the liberty of rights lawyers Yu Wensheng, Jiang Tianyong, Chen Wuquan and the disbarment of Sui Muqing.
Reported by Lu Xi and Gigi Lee for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.