A prominent Chinese lawyer has been formally stripped of his license to practise, four years after a nationwide police operation targeting the country's human rights lawyers beginning on July 9, 2015.
Liu Xiaoyuan, a former partner at the now-abolished Fengrui law firm, has been unable to work as a lawyer since the crackdown that saw more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, and associated rights activists detained and targeted with professional sanctions, house arrest, and travel bans, including for family members.
Liu received a call from officials at the Chaoyang district judicial affairs bureau under the Beijing municipal government on Wednesday informing him that his license had been canceled.
Liu said he believes the move came in retaliation for a photo he posted to social media on Monday of himself selling insecticides as a street hawker, because he is no longer able to work as a lawyer.
"I think that because of yesterday’s photo, they decided to deal the final blow and cancel my license," Liu told RFA.
In an earlier interview, Liu described the photo as a form of installation art.
"It could be said to be a kind of art, but it also shows my helplessness," he said. "It is also a complaint against the abuse of power by the relevant departments."
He said he has considered sueing the authorities over the cancelation of his license, but that a similar case by rights lawyer Cheng Hai hadn't met with much success.
"Cheng Hai had his license to practice law revoked, and appealed, and then went to court, but the court refused to accept the case," Liu said.
He said the rules allow him to reapply for a canceled license in theory, but that, in practice, there has been no precedent for a canceled license to be reinstated.
"[The authorities] can't tolerate the existence of rights attorneys like us ... I can't even protect my own rights, let alone defend somebody else's," he said. "How can I be a lawyer in today's climate?"
Repeated calls to the Chaoyang district judicial affairs bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Lawyer Tan Yongpei, whose license has also been canceled, said his plan to run company offering legal consultancy services instead of representing clients in court had also met with official obstruction.
"There's no way the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party will allow lawyers like [us] to practise for as long as it is in power," Tan said. "They see our defense of the rights of citizens and petitioners as an attack on socialism, and they have put us on a blacklist."
Guangdong-based rights lawyer Sui Muqing said he is in a similar situation to Liu, and has been basically unemployed since losing his license 18 months ago.
His attempts to appeal the decision or sue the government have met with stonewalling, with the courts refusing to accept his lawsuit.
"These decisions are coming from the highest levels, and there is no justice or judicial [independence] to speak of in China," Sui said. "The judges all do as they are told by the police, like police dogs, so there's no real recourse via the judicial system."
Rights lawyers targeted
Judicial bureaus frequently target human rights lawyers with cancelation of their licenses, for which they must undergo an annual review process, but some are imprisoned if they are too outspoken.
Lawyer Chen Wuquan was found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" by a court in Guangdong's Zhenjiang city and sentenced to five years' imprisonment in January.
Chen's jailing came after he helped residents of Zhenjiang's Donghai Island to protest against a reclamation project that damaged the offshore environment and affected their livelihoods.
Chen also took part in shoreline protests with banners, and initiated an online petition against the project. He and six protesters were detained in February 2018.
Reported by Gao Feng and Jia Ao for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.