Authorities in the Chinese capital have stripped prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang of his license to practice following his conviction over a series of tweets on social media, his lawyer said on Thursday.
The Beijing municipal bureau of justice said in an April 13 decision seen by RFA that Pu's conviction by the city's No. 2 Intermediate People's Court on Dec. 22 for "incitement to ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" was the reason for the withdrawal of his license.
"Pu Zhiqiang's conviction and custodial sentence is in breach of article 49, clause 2 of the Lawyers' Law of the People's Republic of China," the decision said.
"It is appropriate that his lawyers' business license should be revoked."
The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court issued the guilty verdict for Pu Zhiqiang on Dec. 22, along with a three-year suspended jail term that led to his release from a police-run detention after time already served was taken into account.
Pu's defense lawyer Shang Baojun said his client didn't seem surprised by the decision when he announced it to friends via social media.
"It was just a matter of time, following his sentencing," Shang said. "We don't feel good about it, but we had made some mental preparation."
"Now we'll just have to get on with what we need to do. It doesn't mean that we will take particular care in future," he said.
‘A warning to others’
Fellow defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said Pu has no plans to seek an administrative review of the decision.
Pu will still be able to take on administrative tasks at his current law firm, he said.
Hong Kong-based rights lawyer Albert Ho said Pu isn't the first lawyer to lose his business license in China.
"The authorities do this as a warning to others, to create a chilling effect [for the legal profession]," Ho said.
"But it doesn't seem to be working, because I have seen that there are a lot of younger lawyers coming up through the ranks in China now, who want to take on human rights cases," he said.
"They're not going to shrink from fighting for progress in China, although they may need to be careful what they say in the short term," Ho said.
According to Ho's Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG), China has detained, questioned, held under house arrest or imposed travel bans on at least 317 lawyers, their colleagues and family members since launching a nationwide police operation targeting the profession last July.
The annual review of lawyers' business licenses is often used to bar rights attorneys who take on politically sensitive cases involving the human rights of vulnerable or disadvantaged groups.
Fellow rights lawyer Cheng Hai said he was recently called in for questioning by police after protesting that the annual review process was unreasonable.
"Law firms are supposed to conduct annual reviews of their own and send the results to the justice bureau, but now the justice bureau is making its own, homegrown policies and documents requiring lawyers to submit to it for review," Cheng said.
"We have to pay them a fee and get their official seal, which we need for our lawyer's license to remain valid," he said. "This should be an internal matter for the law firms ... under the Lawyers' Law."
The case against Pu rested on seven posts he admitted making to the popular social media platform Sina Weibo between 2012 and May 2014, but his lawyers say he had done nothing to break Chinese law.
The "incitement to racial hatred" charge was based on a number of tweets he sent in the aftermath of the March 1, 2014, knife attack at Kunming railway station, which left 29 people dead and more than 140 injured.
Pu's initial detention on May 6, 2014, came ahead of an event marking the anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, in which he played a prominent role.
Reported by Wong Siu-san, Dai Weisen and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.