A second Chinese lawyer involved in defending a Hong Kong democracy activist charged with illegally leaving the territory said Tuesday he had lost his licence.

Ren Quanniu, who represented one of 12 people caught attempting to flee Hong Kong to Taiwan by boat last August, showed AFP a court notice revoking his right to practice.

Ren Quanniu. File photo: Huang Jianhong, via Twitter.

Lu Siwei, who was served alongside Ren on the case, had his licence stripped last month.

In Washington, State Department spokesman 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,” he wrote on Twitter.

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”.

Four families and members of the Save12HKers campaign group prepare to fly balloons towards Yantian, in mainland China (back) at Crooked Island, in Hong Kong on November 21, 2020, the closest point to Yantian District Detention Centre where 12 Hong Kong people have been held for three months after trying to flee the city to Taiwan in August. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP)

He told AFP the accusations against him were “groundless”.

“If my license 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 practice.

The 12 activists attempted to flee after China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong.

Lawyers denied entry into Ren Quanniu’s hearing. Photo: CHRD, via Twitter.

Some on the boat already faced prosecution for alleged crimes linked to the huge and often violent 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 licenses 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.

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