Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have revoked the business license of rights lawyer Sui Muqing after he ignored official warnings not to take on so many politically sensitive cases.
Sui, who has defended high-profile activists including Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi and Guangdong-based legal advocate Guo Feixiong, told RFA that he had received a visit from two officials from the Guangdong provincial government justice department on Tuesday.
"Their names were Chen Wuming and Chen Huaying from the provincial justice department, and they came at around 11.00 a.m. and announced to me that my license was being revoked as a punishment," Sui said.
"I had already said I wanted a hearing, but they suddenly produced this [document]," he said.
Sui said the decision was likely the result of a series of actions on his part, rather than a particular case.
"This has been a cumulative process, and the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party and government are unhappy with me, because I didn't cut back on the number of human rights cases I represented after my license was renewed in the wake of the July 2015 crackdown," Sui said.
"I think this is why they hate me so much."
He said the decision to terminate his license was likely the result of a series of cases.
"There are a large number of factors at play, and I think it's just a case of the straw that broke the camel's back," Sui said.
An official who answered the phone at the Guangdong provincial government justice department declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Tuesday.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Lin Qilei said a large number of rights lawyers had been denied a business license during annual reviews following the July 2015 crackdown, which saw more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff and rights activists detained, questioned, jailed, or placed under surveillance and travel bans along with their families.
"The government is starting to use the justice departments and the Lawyers' Associations instead of criminal proceedings now, to target the legal profession," Lin said. "They are revoking the licenses of human rights lawyers; this is becoming a trend in all provinces now."
"The revoking of licenses is their way of punishing certain human rights lawyers who are very active," he said.
Last September, authorities in the eastern province of Shandong revoked the business license of lawyer Zhu Shengwu, to practice after he defended social media user Wang Jiangfeng, who was jailed for two years after he called President Xi Jinping by a forbidden nickname -- "steamed buns" -- in an online post.
"It is very clear that this sanction imposed on Sui Muqing is a form of persecution, oppression and [political] revenge," Zhu told RFA. "This is definitely a sanction used against human rights lawyers, and likely has to do with the large number of sensitive cases that Sui Muqing has worked on."
Fellow Beijing rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi said the revoking of lawyers' license was intended to send a political signal to other rights lawyers.
"They are warning lawyers that they shouldn't speak out on behalf of prisoners of conscience," Ding said. "Basically, if you want to function as a lawyer in this system, you have to be a tool of the regime; and collude in the persecution of its victims."
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.