China’s defense lawyers run into a brick wall: ‘The order came from high up’ – The Washington Post

Ren Quanniu

AP

Ren Quanniu, right, and other supporters of lawyer Lu Siwei pose for a group photo in Chengdu, China, on Jan. 13. Ren and Lu represented 12 Hong Kong democracy activists who were detained by Chinese authorities while trying to flee the city.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — When the Chinese lawyer Ren Quanniu sought in September to pay a jailhouse visit to his client, a Hong Kong protester who was arrested while fleeing the city, Ren was told the letter from the defendant’s family appointing him didn’t bear the right stamp.

The second time he visited, Ren said, the jail rebuffed him with another reason: his client had other legal representation.

This week, authorities were more blunt. Ren was stripped of his practicing license on Tuesday, after another Chinese lawyer who sought to represent the detained Hong Kongers, Lu Siwei, was similarly disbarred.

“The justice bureau and state security officials all demanded that I withdraw from the case, saying the order came from high up,” Ren said from Henan province, where he is contemplating life outside the courtroom. “Perhaps if I had listened to them early on, I wouldn’t be disbarred,” he added, vowing to find some other way to continue his advocacy work.

[Hong Kong protesters captured at sea are sentenced to prison in China]

Criminal defense lawyers in China have always faced an uphill struggle in a country where prosecutors win nearly 99 percent of cases. The Supreme People’s Court’s chief justice, Zhou Qiang, has dismissed the concept of an independent judiciary as a “mistaken Western concept” that does not belong in China, and acquittals in politically sensitive cases are unheard of.

But the ordeals facing the lawyers who sought to represent the “Hong Kong Twelve,” who were arrested by mainland Chinese authorities in August while fleeing Hong Kong by speedboat, were designed to send a message and pointed to the very heart of Hong Kong protesters’ fears about Beijing. The protest movement was sparked in 2019 by a proposed extradition bill that critics warned would send Hong Kongers into a Chinese system with flimsy criminal procedures and politically influenced hearings.

AP

AP

Police and security officials stand in front of the Henan provincial Justice Department’s office on the day of a hearing for Chinese lawyer Ren Quanniu in Zhengzhou, central China. Ren was stripped of his license.

Denied access to their family-appointed lawyers, the Hong Kong Twelve’s cases proceeded with government lawyers and ended in December after they reportedly pleaded guilty to illegally crossing the Hong Kong border. Sentences for 10 defendants ranged between seven months and three years while two who were underage were returned to Hong Kong authorities. Some also reportedly face charges in Hong Kong, including attempted arson and fighting with police.

[Chinese court hands human rights lawyer 41/2 -year prison sentence]

In Ren’s disqualification letter, judicial authorities did not refer to his involvement in the Hong Kong case or his recent representation of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for live-streaming from Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak. Ren’s offense, according to the letter, was his conduct during the 2018 trial of a Falun Gong practitioner, in which Ren repeatedly refused to refer to his defendant’s spiritual movement as a “cult,” as is required in China.

Lu was disbarred last month in Sichuan province for posting “unsuitable language online.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Hong Kong families thanked Ren and Lu for their attempts to help and said the disbarment was clearly retribution for their involvement in the case.

The decision “was meant to threaten Chinese lawyers from intervening in any cases related to Hong Kong,” the families said. “If Chinese authorities send Hong Kong people to China again in the future, it will be difficult for Hong Kong people to gain independent legal representation.”

Anthony Wallace

AFP/Getty Images

A pro-democracy activist holds up a placard as police stand guard outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong on Feb. 1 during a bail hearing for detained media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed “concern” about Ren and Lu and urged Beijing to “respect human rights and the rule of law and to reinstate their legal credentials at once.”

Teng Biao, an activist and lawyer whose license was revoked in 2008 after he sought to defend Tibetan protesters, said disbarment was not a new form of punishment for nettlesome lawyers who belonged to China’s “rights defense” movement and challenged the government. But it has been wielded far more frequently since the 2015 crackdown on the movement, which included detentions of scores of lawyers.

“It’s an order of magnitude worse in the Xi Jinping era,” Teng said from New Jersey, where he now lives. “Today there are very few lawyers willing to take on risky cases. Even the few that still do are considered too close to the government.”

[China jails yet another human rights lawyer in ongoing crackdown on dissent]

Just last month, pessimism in China’s legal circles deepened after the suspension of a Beijing lawyer, Zhou Ze, who posted videos on social media showing police using torture to extract confessions from witnesses and a client he represented. By publicizing the video, a Beijing court declared, Zhou had violated the lawyers’ code of conduct and sought to unfairly influence an ongoing case.

Wu Danhong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing and a blogger with a following among lawyers, wrote a sardonic piece this week suggesting that China might as well eliminate the entire profession after he saw so many criminal defense lawyers disbarred.

It would mean “no more annoying lawyers to add chaos or allowing criminals to escape punishment,” Wu wrote. “The rare non-guilty verdict or verdicts overturned on appeal would be the result of our judicial organs wisely discovering problems with police investigations and taking the initiative to correct them.”

Lionizing figures like Clarence Darrow, the iconic American lawyer, would be “extremely dangerous” in China, Wu wrote bitterly, for “we adhere to criminal procedure with Chinese characteristics.”

Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Wu declined to comment.

“I’m afraid they’ll punish me for the article,” Wu said. “They’ve already shut down my social media account, I hope you understand.”

Hong Kong protesters captured at sea are sentenced to prison in China

Hong Kong refugees captured at sea spent months plotting daring dash to freedom

China sentences citizen journalist to four years in prison for Wuhan lockdown reports

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Jide Zeitlin, the ex-Goldman banker who stepped down as Tapestry CEO under a cloud, says he was 'cheated' by a billionaire who lent him $38 million

Jide Zeitlin

Summary List Placement

Jide Zeitlin, an ex-Goldman partner who left the CEO role at fashion company Tapestry under a cloud last summer, has resurfaced, accusing a billionaire who lent him $38 million of making manipulative trades to drive down the price of his collateral.

Thai Lee, the CEO of privately held information technology firm SHI International, sued Zeitlin last year for allegedly failing to pay $1.1 million he still owed on a decade-old debt to her. But last month, Zeitlin sought to have the suit thrown out and accused Lee of driving down the price of PureTech Health, a biopharmaceutical stock whose shares were collateral for Zeitlin’s debt.

“Ms. Lee, directly or through a proxy, cheated me,” he said in a filing. “She manipulated the price of PureTech stock, prior to the transfer of shares to [Lee and a family trust], so that I would receive an artificially low valuation toward reducing the debt, and she would obtain all of the shares and additional payments.”

Lee’s lawyer said Zeitlin’s argument was “pure speculation.” Zeitlin said Lee must have taken advantage of PureTech’s low trading volume to “mark the close” and drive its share price down over several months in 2016 and 2017, when Zeitlin paid Lee with PureTech shares then worth over $8.5 million.

PureTech’s share price had fallen to around $1.40 by March 6, 2017, the day of the transfer, and currently trades at more than triple that price. Zeitlin said his allegation of price manipulation is supported by the fact that Lee has held onto the shares and taken a board seat with a PureTech affiliate, despite once dismissing PureTech as a “lottery stock.”

In an email, Lee called Zeitlin’s stock-manipulation claim “100% untrue.”

“Until March 6, 2017, when the shares …were transferred to me as part of the loan repayment from Jide to myself, I never made any attempts to trade PRTC.L stocks, either directly or indirectly,” she wrote, using the ticker symbol for PureTech.

Zeitlin said in his affidavit that he’s retired from finance and is now investing his own wealth. Zeitlin spent about two decades at Goldman, rising to the elite tier of partner and becoming the global chief operating officer of its investment banking division. ProPublica reported that he made over $100 million when Goldman went public. He left in 2006 and runs an investment firm called the Keffi Group. 

Not mentioned in the case is the impetus for Zeitlin’s retirement from finance: a report in ProPublica about his history of moonlighting as a photographer who shot sexually provocative photos of women, one of whom alleged they had an extramarital affair.

Zeitlin said in a LinkedIn post that he “drew too close” to a woman in the ProPublica story but said the focus on it wasn’t justified. He also resigned from the board of the asset manager Affiliated Managers Group in the wake of the article.

In court papers, Zeitlin said he originally borrowed money from Lee, a fellow alumnus and board member of Amherst College, to invest in Vascular Biogenics, an Israeli life sciences company, though Lee’s lawyer indicated in a court filing that she disputed that that’s what the money was used for.

Zeitlin declined to comment.

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