Chinese lawyer Ren Quanniu – who sought to represent one of the 12 fugitive Hongkongers detained by mainland authorities and later jailed for illegal border crossing – says his law firm in Henan province has been ordered to disband.

The human rights lawyer wrote on Twitter on Sunday that a lawyers’ association in the provincial capital Zhengzhou told the Henan Railway Law Firm to disband and asked all associates to move to other companies.

Ren Quanniu. Photo: Ren Quanniu, via Twitter.

The firm was originally managed by Ren and two partners. But they had to replace Ren after his legal licence was revoked last month following his involvement in the Hong Kong case.

According to Ren, his former law firm had sought permission to hire a new partner, but the local judiciary’s administrative department did not process the application. He described the impending disbandment as an “illegal” move likely to cost lawyers their jobs unless they manage to leave the firm before the deadline.

“It is very likely that no one will accept the lawyers who have to switch firms. Then, they will revoke the licences of these lawyers based on the reason of exceeding the statutory time limit,” Ren said.

Ren was retained by the family of one of the 12 Hongkongers who were captured by the Chinese coastguard last August while trying to flee to Taiwan on a speedboat. Most of those on board were facing criminal charges linked to the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.

Protest scenes in Hong Kong in 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

But mainland authorities refused to let Ren meet the defendant when he was in the custody of Shenzhen police and a separate lawyer appointed by other family members was also blocked, in favour of attorneys chosen by the authorities.

In cancelling Ren’s licence last month, the Henan Provincial Department of Justice said the lawyer’s defence of the Falun Gong – described as a cult by the authorities – in a case in 2018 had caused a “negative impact on society.”

But Ren said in his tweet on Sunday that this was just an excuse and the real reason was his involvement in the “Hong Kong 12” case.

On March 22, eight of the 12 detainees were handed over to Hong Kong police after serving seven months behind bars for crossing the border illegally. Among them was activist Andy Li, 30, who following his return was charged with foreign collusion under the national security law, as well as possession of spent ammunition and conspiracy to assist offenders.

His case was mentioned in court on March 24 but he himself was absent as he is undergoing a compulsory Covid-19 quarantine period.

Li’s family have said they have not been able to confirm where the activist is being detained. A concern group called Save 12 HK Youths said on Saturday that family members had several times asked the Correctional Services Department (CSD) where he is being held.

But the department’s headquarters and Stanley Prison both said they had no such person in detention. The concern group also cited family members as saying police and the hospital – without specifying which institution – said they either had no information or no record of Li.

Andy Li. File photo: Stand News.

Local media later cited sources as saying the 30-year-old is being held at the CSD-managed Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre. The reports said he is in solitary confinement and being supervised by a “secretive team” from the CSD.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the CSD neither confirmed nor denied media reports on Li’s detention status. The department said they would not comment on individual cases, adding they would inform family members of the new inmates about his or her location in accordance with the detainee’s preference.

Among the rest of the 12, Hongkongers Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon are still imprisoned in the mainland, after receiving a heavier penalty of three and two years in jail, respectively. Two teenagers Hoang Lam-phuc and Liu Tz-man were released last December without charge, after admitting wrongdoing. They are now in custody in Hong Kong pending trial on protest-related offences.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.