Authorities in the Chinese capital have warned off a lawyer hired by the family of detained human rights attorney Wang Quanzhang, saying that he will be represented by a government-appointed lawyer instead.
Wang has been held at an unknown location without trial or access to a lawyer or family visits for nearly two years after being detained in a nationwide July 2015 police operation targeting rights lawyers and associated activists.
Recently, the Beijing branch of the China Law Association contacted his defense attorney Yu Wensheng to inform him that he is no longer instructed to act for his client.
"The Tianjin branch of the Law Association has appointed a lawyer, but we don't yet know who the lawyer is," Yu said in a recent interview. "But I and [fellow defense attorney] Cheng Hai want to stand up for our right to represent him."
"We plan to go to Tianjin, because according to the rules, I and Cheng Hai are his lawyers, and we can only have our instructions terminated by Wang Quanzhang himself," he said.
Yu said the authorities are likely making it as hard as possible for detained lawyers like Wang to defend themselves.
"If there's any point to it at all, then it's to do with stability maintenance," he said.
Cheng said the Law Association is working with the judicial affairs bureau to control Wang's choice of lawyer.
"I told them that we are his lawyers, that we have already filed the papers, and that we are legally his representatives," he said. "They need to tell Wang Quanzhang to terminate our instructions, otherwise we can't stop acting on them."
Making life harder for lawyers
He said the move was likely just another way of making life harder for Chinese lawyers.
"The Tianjin Law Association is out of line, and it's just another form of insult to the legal profession in China," he said.
Meanwhile, Wang's wife Li Wenzu said her father-in-law has been targeted by local officials, who are threatening to cut off his state pension if he doesn't come home and stop trying to find out where his son is being held.
"Yesterday, Wang Quanzhang's father's former employer called him twice, then the local party secretary called him, telling him to go home as soon as possible, or he could wind up with no income," Li told RFA.
"We think that they have an ulterior motive ... it's because we have continued to speak out against [Wang's detention]," she said. "They have come up with a new way [to persecute us], but we won't give up; we will remain united, and continue our fight for Wang Quanzhang."
Wang once worked for the now-shuttered Fengrui law firm that was the first target of police raids and detentions in July 2015 that broadened into a nationwide operation targeting more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff and associated rights activists for detention, professional sanctions, house arrest and travel bans, including for family members,
In March, fellow Fengrui lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan made a complaint to Beijing's mayoral hotline, likening the crackdown on lawyers to the political violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Investigations by RFA revealed that while Beijing Fengrui is still listed as a law firm on the official website of the Beijing judicial affairs bureau, the firm's former premises in the capital are now occupied by a commercial company.
But Fengrui cases continue to be cited in the education and information section of the bureau's website.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.