Beijing begins a new round of crackdown on human rights lawyers as members worry that the community might “dry up”

After the Chinese government revoked their licenses earlier this year, Chinese human rights lawyers Ren Quanniu and Lu Si-Wei faced another round of crackdown from Beijing in recent days. Ren said he expects China’s human rights lawyers to face more persecution in the next two years.

In January, Chinese human rights lawyer Ren Quanniu and Lu Si-Wei had their licenses revoked after taking on several sensitive cases, including the case of the 12 Hong Kong youths. Over the weekend, they experienced a new round of crackdown from Beijing. Ren said the law firm that he co-founded with other lawyers was informed that the government wanted them to disband on their own.

The news was reportedly shared with his law firm by the vice president of the lawyer’s association. According to him, the vice presidnet wrote the word “department” on the table with water to imply that the order came from the Ministry of Justice.

“After officials revoked my license at the beginning of the year, our law firm was entitled to find another lawyer to become the new partner of the law firm,” Ren said. “However, government agencies kept delaying the law firm’s application process, and even after we made a lot of compromises, officials from the justice department still didn’t give us a clear approval.”

Ren said he has been expecting the Chinese government to order his law firm to disband, because, over the last few years, Beijing has been pressuring him to transfer to another law firm. While the government never took real actions, they were still able to find an excuse to ask the law firm to disband on their own.

“Apart from our law firm, another law firm in Shandong Province, where another human rights lawyer who lost his license used to work at, was also ordered to disband on their own,” Ren said. “All the lawyers at the law firm had been transferred to other law firms under the government’s instruction. It seems obvious that after the government closed down that law firm, they turned their attention to our law firm.”

Ren said some lawyers think recent moves from Beijing, including revoking his license and demanding several law firms to disband, are all part of a “judicial reform” launched by the Chinese government. He thinks that Beijing can no longer use mass-arrest to crack down on the human rights lawyers’ community, and instead, they have been using administrative methods like revoking lawyers’ licenses and demanding law firms to disband to put pressure on the community.

“I think human rights lawyers in China will face more serious crackdown over the next two years, and some of them might not even just lose their licenses,” Ren said. “From our law firm’s experience, it is obvious that the Chinese government will use different ways to intimidate law firms without any legal references. They told lawyers at our law firm that if they don’t follow the instruction to transfer to other law firms, they won’t have anywhere to go. I think more human rights lawyers will face similar situations in the future.”

Lu Si-wei banned from leaving Sichuan

On the other hand, Lu Si-Wei, another human rights lawyer who lost his license over several sensitive cases, was stopped by local police in Sichuan Province to board a flight to Beijing on March 28. He was planning to apply for a visa to the United States on March 29 but before he was able to board his flight, local police summoned him to the police station and told him that they wouldn’t allow him to go get his visa in Beijing.

“They said if I tried to go, the police would have backup plans to deal with it,” Lu said. “They also said the government wouldn’t lift border control against me anytime soon, so since I couldn’t go to the United States, it made no sense for me to go apply for the visa. I was scheduled to board a flight at 7 pm on Sunday, but they trapped me at the police station until 5 pm, causing me to miss my flight to Beijing.”

Lu thinks that he is viewed as a sensitive individual by the Chinese government, so they try to use some typical methods to prevent him from leaving Sichuan. Since he has been planning to leave China, he thinks that gives the government more incentive to control him.

“There has been a prediction that Beijing plans to remove all human rights lawyers over the next two years,” Lu said. “The idea is to prevent human rights lawyers from taking on sensitive cases. If human rights lawyers insist on taking on sensitive cases, their licenses might be revoked. If they plan to adopt other moves, the government will try to impose more restrictions on them, including possibly sending them into jails.”

While human rights lawyers remain relatively active in 2012 and 2013, the community has become smaller and smaller following the crackdown over the last few years. Lu said now defendants from sensitive cases can hardly find any lawyer to handle their cases.

“We can expect the Chinese government to keep increasing the level of their crackdown,” he said. “The justice department will try to control supervisors of law firms and ask them not to handle sensitive cases. This will prevent human rights lawyers from taking on those cases and if they still try to take on those cases, the government will prepare to punish them at any moment.”

Lu said the human rights lawyer’s community in China has almost “dried up.” “I think it has become a new normal for the Chinese government to crackdown on human rights lawyers,” Lu said. “The community will gradually die out and I think that will put more pressure on the remaining lawyers. They may not feel comfortable sharing information due to suspicion, which could lower the amount of attention that prisoners of conscience receive in China.”

Additionally, courts have been delaying the proceedings of several sensitive cases in China, as trials for some cases haven’t begun even though the case has been in the court for months. “Even though delaying the proceeding doesn’t deprive defendants of their rights completely, it will cause the society to lose interest in these cases and lawyers may reduce the amount of information that they share with the public.”

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.