China strips license of lawyer for Hong Kong activist

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – A Chinese lawyer who represented a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong was stripped of his law license on Friday amid Beijing’s efforts to crush opposition to its tighter control over the territory.

Lu Siwei, who represented one of 12 Hong Kong activists who tried to flee to Taiwan, had his license revoked by the Sichuan provincial justice department in a formal notice issued on Friday.

Ten of the 12 activists arrested at sea in August were sentenced by a Shenzhen court in December to prison terms ranging from seven months to three years for “illegally crossing the border” and “organizing illegal border crossings”.

They are part of an exodus of Hong Kong residents following Beijing’s imposition of a tough new security law that they say destroys the territory’s Western-style civil liberties. Since the law was introduced in response to anti-government protests that began in 2019, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested or detained.

The law has been denounced by European nations and by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Beijing says the law allows Hong Kong to “enjoy greater social stability, economic development and greater freedom.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the 12 activists “elements trying to separate Hong Kong from China” and not democratic activists.

Beijing, which requires lawyers to take an oath of loyalty to the ruling Communist Party, has tightened control over the profession. Other lawyers have been stripped of their licenses to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases. Some have been imprisoned.

In a notice last week, the Chengdu office of the Sichuan Justice Department stated that Lu had violated laws on professional legal conduct. He accused him of making comments online that had “a negative impact on society.”

Also last week, Ren Quanniu, another lawyer for one of the 12 activists, was informed by the Zhengzhou office of the Henan Ministry of Justice that he was at risk of losing his license. He was told that his comments in court had a “negative impact on society”. His hearing is still ongoing, but is considered a formality.

On Wednesday, Ren and a small group of supporters showed up at Lu’s license hearing in Chengdu to support him. They were forcibly separated by the police and Lu was taken inside alone, Ren said.

Lu and Ren were both hired by the families of the activists, but were prevented from seeing their clients throughout the court process.

“They didn’t even let me in the front door, let alone the door to the administrative area where you do paperwork,” Ren said of his first visit to the Shenzhen police station, where Hong Kong activists were taken away by authorities.

On his second visit, he was told that his client had already accepted a duty counsel.

Throughout the case, the activists’ families have protested that they should be able to use lawyers of their choice instead of court-appointed lawyers.

Lu was often summoned by the local Chengdu Department of Justice office for meetings, in which officials from the office told him to leave the case.

Neither Lu nor Ren backed down. “Why should I quit when there is no legal reason for me to quit?” How can I explain myself to the family? Ren told The Associated Press.

A person from the local Justice Ministry office in Chengdu first told the PA to call back. Subsequent appeals went unanswered. Phone calls to the Zhengzhou Ministry of Justice office went unanswered.

The two lawyers both have a history of handling sensitive cases and navigating the tense and troubled waters of …

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