A lawyer seeking to represent one of the 12 Hongkongers detained on mainland China after reportedly trying to flee to Taiwan has called on Chinese prosecutors to investigate local security officers for allegedly making false claims and depriving his client of his right to a legal defence.
Human rights lawyer Ren Quanniu, who is based in Zhengzhou in Henan province, lodged his grievance with the Yantian People’s Procuratorate in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Friday after police officers from a detention centre there prevented him from meeting his client, 29-year-old Wong Wai-yin, according to a mainland source with direct knowledge of the matter. Ren, like other lawyers involved in the case, had already faced pressure to drop Wong as a client.
One of the very few mainland lawyers insisting on representing the detained Hongkongers, Ren raised his objection just hours after the family of another suspect, Andy Li, similarly appealed to Chinese authorities to allow their loved one to meet the counsel they hired.
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In his letter, which was seen by the Post, Ren called for the suspects to be returned to the city, and argued that Hong Kong residents should not be covered under the offence of crossing the border illegally, which the 12 were accused of when they were arrested at sea by the China Coast Guard last month.
“To safeguard the basic human rights of the suspect, and the implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in accordance with the law … I request the authorities to extradite the case to Hong Kong,” he wrote.
Many of the 12 detainees were previously arrested in Hong Kong over charges linked to last year’s months of social unrest. At least one, Li, was accused of violating the city’s sweeping new national security law, which was imposed by Beijing on June 30.
Ren also visited the detention centre on Friday requesting to see Wong, but was told by officers that his client was already represented by two unnamed defenders – similar to what other lawyers involved in the case have been told previously.
He lodged his complaint to the People’s Procuratorate of the district in the afternoon, requesting it investigate what he said could be false claims by officers from the local public security bureau.
“The suspect had no cash with him and did not know any lawyers from the mainland,” Ren said in the letter. “[I] have reasons to suspect that the Yantian branch of the public security bureau falsely claimed that he had hired two defence lawyers, but actually they do not exist.”
Another source added that the mainland lawyers in the case were planning “collective actions” at the detention facility next week in spite of previous failed attempts to see their clients.
Meanwhile, the detention of the Hongkongers – 11 men and one woman, aged 16 to 33 – has even become a talking point in the ongoing diplomatic row between Beijing and Washington, since the group was captured while reportedly sailing to Taiwan to seek political asylum.
The family of Li, who was arrested on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces and money laundering on August 10, appealed to the international community via social media on Thursday night to help secure his safe return. Within hours, their pages had been followed by thousands of people across three platforms.
“It was devastating to imagine the despair he must have felt in seeking to flee. It is pure anguish to not know what Andy is going through right now,” they wrote, asking the international community to urge Chinese authorities to guarantee Li’s safety, and to grant him access to his family-appointed lawyer.
So far, three mainland lawyers – Ren, Lu Siwei and a Shenzhen-based counsel – have been barred from meeting the suspects, while pressure from local bureaus of justice has prompted at least five family-appointed counsel to quit representing the suspects, the Post understands.
A source said Ren’s latest attempt to see his client on Friday morning began with a visit to the district’s public security bureau, where he submitted notarised documents prepared by the family and a letter challenging the bureau’s jurisdiction over criminal cases of the China Coast Guard Bureau, which intercepted the group’s speedboat.
According to a poll of some 12,600 people by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute this week, 60 per cent of residents agreed that the Hong Kong government should request their mainland counterparts hand the dozen detainees back to the city as soon as possible, while only 31 per cent opposed the idea. Of the participants, 90 per cent identified as supporters of the pan-democracy camp.