Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Wednesday suspended the license of rights attorny Lu Siwei at a disciplinary hearing, 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.”
Faced with the loss of his license to practise law, Lu opted for a full hearing. He was dragged into the building by police officers on Wednesday as he showed up at the Sichuan provincial department of justice in Chengdu.
“Lawyer Lu Siwei was escorted to the justice department directly from his home in his wife’s car,” a lawyer at the scene, who asked to remain anonymous, told RFA on Wednesday.
“He wasn’t allowed contact with anyone else, and was taken straight inside the building. His two lawyers were intercepted — one of them got to go inside after a struggle,” the lawyer said.
Xie Yanyi, who represented Lu at the hearing, dismissed the evidence brought by officials against Lu at the hearing.
“The allegations made by the investigators during the hearing over Lu Siwei’s so-called violations of law and discipline were entirely fictitious; they didn’t hold water,” Xie told RFA.
He said the hearing had ended with the suspension of Lu’s license.
“The Sichuan department of justice made no attempt to investigate the allegations, and just issued a notice of suspension of [Lu’s] license without bothering to verify the details,” Xie said. “It should at least have conducted a preliminary investigation.”
He said the conduct of the hearing was tantamount to persecution.
“Everyone inside the room were insiders; this was basically a behind-closed-doors hearing,” he said. “The whole process was illegal right from the start.”
“Rushing to an administrative punishment in such a way … is essentially illegal persecution,” Xie said.
Consular staff sent by foreign diplomatic missions, including those of Canada, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, were also denied entry to the hearing, which was then held behind closed doors.
The lawyer said there was a strong police presence outside the building, with checkpoints at either end of the street.
“The Department of Justice has set up police checkpoints at both ends of the road,” the lawyer said. “I also saw a large police vehicle outside and seven or eight smaller ones.”
“There are actually not as many police officers in uniform as plainclothes … [the plainclothes officers] are guarding the place very tightly by following people and coming forward [when they approach the building].”
Fellow rights attorney Ren Quanniu, who also faces the loss of his lawyer’s license for defending another of the Hong Kong 12, Xu Yan, wife of rights attorney Yu Wensheng, were taken away by police, the lawyer said.
“There was a standoff between them and the intercepting police officers,” the lawyer said. “Some people who had gotten involved in a more intense altercation were taken straight to the local police station.”
“Initially, the police denied them water, but they are saying that they have now been given lunch,” the lawyer said.
Large-scale purge of lawyers since 2015
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.
Lu, who was never allowed to visit his client Quinn Moon in Yantian Detention Center in Shenzhen, despite being 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.
In a Dec. 31 notice sent to Ren, who was hired by the family of Wong Wai-yin but similarly prevented from carrying out his instructions, judicial authorities in the central province of Henan, said his license was also under review for “violating Chinese law and professional guidelines for lawyers.”
Ren’s hearing will be held on Jan. 19.
On Dec. 31, 2020, a court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong handed down jail terms of up to three years to 10 of the 12 Hong Kong protesters detained on Aug. 23 as they tried to flee a national security crackdown in the city, on charges linked to “illegally crossing a border.”
The Yantian District People’s Court in Guangdong’s Shenzhen city sentenced Ren’s client Tang Kai-yin to three years’ imprisonment for “organizing others to cross a border illegally,” while fellow activist Quinn Moon — Lu’s client — was jailed for two years on the same charge.
Fellow defendants Cheng Tsz-ho, Cheung Chun-fu, Li Tsz-yin, Andy Li, Wong Wai-yin, Kok Tsz-Lun, Jim Man-him, and Cheung Ming-jyu were each jailed for seven months each for “illegally crossing a border” and fined 10,000 yuan each.
The remaining two detainees — Liu Tsz-man and Hoang Lam-fuk — were sent back to Hong Kong after the authorities said they wouldn’t pursue charges against them, as they were under 18 at the time of their detention.
All 12 detainees were consistently denied access to defense attorneys hired by their families and allocated government-approved attorneys to represent them at a trial that was effectively held behind closed doors.
Since beginning a nationwide crackdown in July 2015, authorities in provinces and cities across China have conducted large-scale purges of lawyers deemed not to be toeing the party line, with hundreds losing their licenses in Hunan alone in September 2020.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.