Chinese human rights lawyers risk losing their licenses after taking on several sensitive cases
Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei and Ren Qiuannu, who have taken on several sensitive cases over the last year, received notifications from Provincial Department of Justice in Sichuan and Henan on Monday that his license could be revoked. Xu Yan, the wife of imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, said the news shows that Beijing is accelerating the pace of its crackdown on human rights lawyers in China.
Over the last year, Lu Siwei has taken on several sensitive cases in China, including the case of the 12 Hong Kong people detained in China, the case of Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and the case of Chinese poet Wang Zang. On Monday, he received a letter from the Sichuan Provincial Department of Justice, informing him that they are considering revoking his license.
According to a copy of the letter, the department of justice accused Lu of sharing inappropriate comments online on several occasions, and he shared too many posts online for a long period of time. They said his behaviors have seriously damaged the image of lawyers and created vicious impact on the society. As a form of administrative punishment, the department of justice is thinking about revoking his license.
Lu said he only learned about the notification when an administrative assistant at the law firm he works at sent him the images. He plans to contact the department of justice in Sichuan Province and get a full understanding about the charges against him. He said he believes the decision from the department of justice has something to do with the fact that he tried to take on the case of the 12 Hong Kong people detained in Shenzhen. According to the letter he received, Lu needs to request the department of justice to hold a hearing within three days of receiving the letter.
On the same day, another Chinese human rights lawyer also received a similar letter. Ren Qiuanniu, who represented Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan in a high profile case that held the trial last week, also received a letter from the department of justice in Henan Province.
In the letter, the local authorities accused Ren of violating the Lawyers Law and the Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers in China. The department of justice said Ren took on a case involving an “evil religious organization violating the enforcement of law in China,” and his behaviors seriously violated Article 39 of the Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers.
The department of justice in Henan decides to use revoking his license as a form of administrative punishment, and Ren was also given three days to request a hearing. Ren said he received the notification on December 31, 2020 and he has until January 3rd to request a hearing.
“Beijing is accelerating the pace of cracking down on human rights lawyers”
Lu Siwei has taken on several high profile human rights cases in China, including the case of the 12 Hong Kong people detained in Shenzhen, the case of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and the case of detained Chinese poet Wang Zang.
Xu Yan, the wife of Yu Wensheng, said while she wasn’t surprised that authorities decide to revoke Lu’s license, but she was shocked by the government’s pace of executing the decision. She thinks that the episode reflects the accelerating pace of crack down on human rights lawyers in China.
“As Yu’s defense lawyer for his appeal’s trial, Lu has been fighting for Yu’s legal rights within the legally acceptable range,” Xu said. “The department of justice’s decision to revoke his license has seriously threatened a lawyer’s ability to fulfill their legal duties in China.”
Xu said while the department of justice said that Lu can request a hearing regarding the decision within three days of receiving the letter, based on her past experience dealing with her husband’s case, she thinks it’s very likely that the authorities have decided to revoke Lu’s license. “Once the department of justice issues the notification, it means that they are definitely going to revoke the lawyers’ licenses,” Xu explained.
Xu predicted that the incident could also impact her husband’s case. Originally, Lu had agreed to continue to offer legal assistance for Yu’s case despite the recent decision of the high court in Jiangsu to reject Yu’s appeal. However, now that Lu is likely going to lose his license, he will not be able to continue these legal assistance. Xu also thinks that the incident is going to create a chilling effect among human rights lawyers in China.
“The outcome of this case is going to have a psychological impact on other human rights lawyers while they determine whether to take on sensitive cases or not,” she said. “When a lawyer lost his or her license, it will also create a lot of problems for the career development in the future.”
As China increases its crackdown on human rights lawyers, Xu emphasizes that what defense lawyers or family members are often demanding are rights that should have been protected under existing laws in China. However, as her husband’s case has shown, judicial institutions in China often choose to abandon legal processes when they don’t have the right reason or legal foundation to do so.
“During the appeal process in my husband’s case, the high court in Jiangsu Province made the decision without the defense lawyers submitting their defense materials or the lawyers finishing reading the existing documents related to the case,” Xu said. “Such behavior is not only unfair to the defendant, their family members and their lawyers, it is also damaging China’s public rights. It basically means that the Chinese government’s credibility is declining.”
This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.