By Jessie Pang and Yew Lun Tian
HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) - China has said it would revoke the licences of two human-rights lawyers who tried to help with the case of 12 Hong Kong people convicted last month on border violation charges after trying to flee to Taiwan by boat, the lawyers said on Tuesday.
The case of the 12, who had all been involved in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong before they tried to leave for democratic Taiwan, is the latest issue to raise concern in the former British colony about the preservation of its freedoms.
The two mainland-based lawyers said they had received letters on Monday from authorities about the loss of their licences and they had three days to appeal. Both said they intended to do so.
"I have no regrets," one of the lawyers, Lu Siwei, told Reuters.
China's Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Families of two of the 12 Hong Kong defendants appointed Lu and Ren Quanniu to represent them but the lawyers were denied access to their clients.
The 12 were represented in court by lawyers appointed by mainland authorities.
Ten of the 12 were sentenced last week by a court in the city of Shenzhen to between seven months and three years in prison for illegal border crossing, while the two youngest were returned to Hong Kong for trial on charges related to anti-government protests last year.
Both lawyers have been critical of China's legal process and said they believed the licence threat was linked to the case of the Hong Kong people, which drew criticism from international rights groups and foreign governments.
But the lawyers said authorities in the jurisdictions where they are based did not mention the case of the Hong Kong people in their letters, instead criticising them on other grounds.
The Sichuan province justice department accused Lu in a letter seen by Reuters of "making multiple inappropriate remarks online" over a long time, "severely damaging the image of the industry" and "causing negative impacts on society".
The Sichuan justice department, which could not immediately be reached for comment, said in a notice it would hear Lu's appeal on Jan. 13.
Ren, 40, showed Reuters a letter from the Henan province justice department accusing him of violating regulations over a case he took in 2018 representing a defendant in a religious matter.
The Henan justice department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the lawyers lose their licences they would be unable to practice law in China.
Human rights lawyers in China are often targeted with jail terms and disbarment and rights groups say such pressure has intensified in recent years under a crackdown on dissent under President Xi Jinping.
Ren said the justice department, national security officers and a lawyers' association had all pressed him to drop the Hong Kong case, warning him that his licence was at stake.
Relatives of Hong Kong detainee Wong Wai-yin, who hired Ren, said they were "appalled" by the news of his predicament.
Ren recently represented Zhang Zhan, a citizen-journalist sentenced to four years in prison over her reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang in Hong Kong and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Tony Munroe, Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel)