A second Chinese lawyer has lost his licence after defending a Hong Kong democracy activist charged with illegally leaving the territory.
Ren Quanniu, who represented one of 12 people caught attempting to flee Hong Kong to Taiwan by boat in August 2020, received a court notice on Tuesday revoking his right to practise.
Lu Siwei, who was served alongside Ren on the case, had his licence stripped last month.
In Washington a spokesman for the state department, Ned Price, said the US was “deeply concerned” about the disbarment of the two lawyers. “We urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law and to reinstate their legal credentials at once.”
Ren received the notice from the Henan provincial department of justice after a hearing in the central province last Friday related to a 2018 case when he represented a member of the Falun Gong, a religious group banned in mainland China.
Authorities found Ren had “disrupted the normal order of criminal proceedings” and had been “severely damaging the image of the lawyer industry and causing a negative impact on society”.
Ren said the accusations against him were “groundless”.
“If my licence could be revoked in such circumstances, I think China’s legal system is dead,” he said.
“Lawyers should be clearly aware that referencing the law and facts in court may be dangerous in the future.”
Ren and Lu have both said that representing the members of the so-called “Hong Kong 12” was the trigger that stripped them of the right to practise.
The 12 activists attempted to flee after China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong.
Some on the boat already faced prosecution for alleged crimes linked to the pro-democracy protests of 2019.
“Persecuted activists and critics of the government are unlikely to find any lawyers to defend their legal rights these days,” said the NGO coalition Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
“Human rights lawyers [in China] face renewed zeal by authorities to debar them.”
More than a dozen Chinese rights lawyers have had their licences cancelled or revoked in recent years in what activists have said is an effective silencing by authorities.
Both lawyers faced difficulties reaching their clients in the Hong Kong 12 case and authorities did not recognise their appointment by families of the defendants.