Washington, United States

The United States denounced Wednesday the deportation of a prominent human rights lawyer from Laos to his native China, calling for details on his whereabouts and assurances on the ailing activist’s access to medical care.

Lu Siwei
Lu Siwei. File photo: NowTV screenshot.

Lu Siwei was one of the lawyers appointed by families of a Hong Kong activist group that was intercepted by authorities in 2020 while attempting to flee the city by boat to Taiwan.

But after being arrested by Laotian police while en route to Thailand in July, Lu was transported back to China last month, where he is likely to face legal repercussions, a rights group said.

He is now being held at a detention facility in Sichuan, southwestern China, his family told Amnesty International.

“The United States condemns the forced repatriation of People’s Republic of China (PRC) national and human rights lawyer Lu Siwei to the PRC from Laos, at the request of PRC authorities,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, using China’s official name.

“We call on the PRC to confirm Lu’s current location; allow for external verification by independent observers of Lu’s well-being, including access for doctors to treat Lu’s chronic health condition; and enable his access to a lawyer of his choosing.”

Lu and one other human rights lawyer — Ren Quanniu, who also sought to represent members of the “Hong Kong 12” that attempted to escape to Taiwan — had their legal licenses revoked in 2021 by authorities.

Following the large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that erupted in 2019, Beijing has cracked down on legal professionals offering activists representation, in a campaign critics have slammed as an attempt to silence dissent.

Mainland authorities accused Lu of “inappropriate remarks on the internet (and) seriously damaging the lawyer industry’s image”.

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

But Lu told AFP in 2021 that he believed the accusations were “just a cover” and that his decision to take on several sensitive cases had “marked my destiny”.

Beijing has in recent years also stepped up a campaign targeting its critics abroad.

Last year Spain-based NGO Safeguard Defenders said Beijing had set up 54 overseas “police stations” around the world, allegedly to target Communist Party critics and coerce people into returning to China. Beijing has denied the claims.

“Lu’s reported reappearance in a Chinese detention centre is the latest chilling example of the Chinese government’s determination to pursue its critics even beyond China’s borders,” Amnesty International said.

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