Hun Sen Supporter Wins Election as Head of Cambodian Bar Association

A lawyer known for supporting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was elected Friday as president of the Bar Association of Cambodia, raising concerns over political bias in the association and prompting calls for a review of election procedures.Ly Chantola, who helped the government three years ago draft a law dissolving the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), received 1,444 votes in the Oct. 16 election, easily defeating four other candidates who received votes ranging from 130 votes at the highest to 26 votes at the lowest.In a statement following the announcement of the election’s results, Ly Chantola said that no serious differences had emerged between his own proposals and views and those of the other four candidates—Ket Khy, Sam Sokong, Sar Sovann, and Sek Sorphoan.“Although some of our policy proposals were different, and some were the same, the differences among us were not so great that we ended up arguing with each other,” Ly Chantola said, calling the conduct of the election that raised him to office “a model” for future votes.Outgoing association president Suon Visal voiced support for the new president, whose term in office in the 2,151-member association will last for two years but may be extended through another vote.Ly Chantoly had been his own choice to lead the association charged with protecting the professionalism and common interests of Cambodia’s legal profession, he said.“I hope he is capable enough to lead the Bar Association,” Suon Visal said, adding,  “Had he not won, and had some other candidate won instead, I would now support that candidate, because it is the election result itself that we must respect.”“But for now, I’m satisfied with the results of this election.”'Corrupted procedures'Disparities in wealth and political influence have corrupted campaign procedures, however, and may have helped pave the way for Ly Chantola’s success, Choung Chuongy—a lawyer defending political opposition officials and activists—told RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday.Some candidates spend tens of thousands of dollars to invite voting association members to lavish parties or use the influence of powerful politicians to lure voters, Coung Cuongy said, calling himself “not fully satisfied” with the election’s results.Greater transparency is needed in campaign procedures, while limits should be imposed on the amounts of money candidates may spend to win election, he said.“I would like to see candidates compete for the position of president of the Bar Association fairly and with integrity, and not use money or the influence of people in power to help win the election.”Close to Hun SenLy Chantola, who has posed for photos with the long-ruling Hun Sen and his family, helped his government prepare the case in which Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition CNRP in November 2017, two months after the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple Hun Sen.He now serves on the government’s legal team prosecuting Kem Sokha on charges of treason.The ban on the CNRP, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, cleared the way for Hun Sun’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.At least 17 CNRP members have been detained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on charges of “incitement” for comments they made deemed critical of Hun Sen’s leadership.Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Vietnam Court Convicts 20 on Terrorism, Explosives Charges in Two-Day Trial

A court in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday sentenced 20 people to prison terms ranging from two to 24 years on terrorism charges for their role in the bombing two years ago of a police station in the city, according to media sources.Seventeen of the group were found guilty of acts of terrorism, and three of illegally using explosives, in the two-day trial in which all 20 had pleaded guilty, the Reuters news service said in a Sept. 22 report, adding that the defendants will be held under house arrest on the completion of their terms.The trial comes amid a spate of arrests in Vietnam of independent journalists, bloggers, and other dissident voices as authorities already intolerant of dissent seek to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.The June 20, 2018 bomb attack wrecked the police station of Ward 12 in the city’s Tan Binh district, leaving one officer injured, and was blamed by authorities on a Canada-based exile group called Trieu Dai Viet Nguyen, or the Viet Nguyen Dynasty.A second attack was planned for the police station at the Tam Hiep ward of Dong Nai province’s Bien Hoa City but was never carried out, state media sources said.Nguyen Tuan Thanh and his father, Nguyen Khanh, 56, residents of the Ho Nai 3 commune in Dong Nai’s Trang Bom district, were arrested and charged with directing others to carry out the first attack and for plotting the second, police sources said in advance of the trial.State media said that both men had confessed to close ties with the exiled Ngo Hung, commander-in-chief of the Viet Nguyen Dynasty, with Ngo naming Nguyen Khanh as head of a proposed Dong Nai Autonomous Area and sending him VND 120 million (U.S. $5,300) to finance the bombings.Prosecutors said during the trial that additional attacks carried out by the group included a bombing earlier that same year in Hau Giang province, with no casualties reported, and a bombing in Kien Giang province in which the bomber himself was killed.In an interview with RFA in 2018, Ngo Hung confirmed the explosion in Ho Chi Minh City was directed by his group and demanded that Vietnam free the arrested men. He is now being sought by Vietnamese police.Attempts by RFA to reach defendants’ lawyers and family members for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.Other recent attacksVietnamese activists opposed to Vietnam’s one-party communist government have been implicated in several bomb attacks in recent years, with a court in Binh Duong province in April sentencing one man to more than a decade in prison for setting off a bomb at the provincial tax office last year, according to state media.According to the Ministry of Public Security, Truong Duong, a 40-year-old truck driver, had received payment from the U.S.-based Provisional Government of Vietnam exile group under the leadership of Dao Minh Quan, which Vietnam declared a terrorist organization in 2018.The Provisional Government of Vietnam is also accused of masterminding a petrol bomb attack that destroyed hundreds of motorbikes at a police warehouse in Dong Nai in April 2017 and an attempted attack on Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City later that same month.Vietnam has issued international arrest warrants for Quan and six other members of the organization, all of whom are living either in the U.S. or in Canada.Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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North Korean Appeals Extradition From Malaysia to US

A North Korean businessman on Friday appealed a December 2019 ruling by a Malaysian court that cleared his deportation to America over alleged money-laundering and violations of international sanctions on Pyongyang. Mun Chol Myong, 55, a longtime resident of Malaysia who has been in custody since May 2019, told a Kuala Lumpur High Court judge via his lawyer that he was not guilty of criminal charges filed against him in the U.S. “The extradition order against Mun is invalid because the offenses alleged by the United States did not occur in Malaysia. The defense team of the accused was also never allowed to debate the charges leveled against him by U.S. authorities,” defense attorney Gooi Soon Seng told Judge Ahmad Shahrir during Friday’s deliberations. Gooi further argued that U.S. prosecutors did not present evidence of alleged money-laundering by Mun. The hearing was the first in Mun’s case since last December, when the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court ruled in favor of the U.S. extradition request. At the time, Sessions Court Judge Rohatul Akmar Abdullah gave Mun and his legal team 15 days to lodge an appeal. Mun originally filed his appeal on Dec. 26, but has since hired a new defense attorney, Gooi. Court hearings were delayed for months due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the country earlier this year. After Gooi stated the reason for the appeal, the High Court judge asked the prosecution why Mun was not given an opportunity to defend himself in the lower court against the U.S. allegations. “Our reason is that the trial in Malaysia is to get permission to extradite Mun to the U.S.,” prosecutor Faizul Aswad Mas replied. “He will be given the opportunity to defend himself against money-laundering charges during a trial in the United States later.” Mun was not present during the court session but his wife and daughter were seated in the public gallery, along with two officials from the North Korean embassy. Judge Ahmad Shahrir said the court would issue a ruling in the appeal on Oct. 8. Controlled items Mun had previously denied allegations by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he had led a group of criminals who had violated sanctions on North Korea by supplying luxury goods to his reclusive home country and laundering money through front companies. After his arrest, American authorities had requested his extradition on four charges of money laundering and two charges of conspiracy to launder money. Until his arrest last year, Mun had lived in Malaysia with his family for about a decade. In 2019, Malaysia’s government had agreed to the U.S. request for Mun’s extradition but he tried to fend it off by taking his case to the Malaysian courts. During his 2019 trial, prosecutors told the Sessions Court that between 2014 and 2017, Mun had laundered money through front companies using falsified documents. They also said he had shipped “controlled items” to North Korea when he worked in 2014 as a business development manager for a Singapore-based company, which allegedly supplied goods to the communist nation. Last year, a source in Malaysian intelligence told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that the United States believed Mun had violated U.N. Security Council sanctions, which were aimed at depriving North Korea of funds that could be funneled into Pyongyang’s nuclear programs. Gooi, Mun’s new attorney, also defended Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian who was one of two women accused of taking part in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, with a chemical weapon at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Siti and her co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, were both acquitted of the charges early last year. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Twelve Hong Kong Detainees 'Not Oppressed' in Chinese Detention Center: Carrie Lam

Twelve Hongkongers who fled the city amid an ongoing crackdown on participants in last year's protest movement weren't "democracy activists being oppressed," the city's leader Carrie Lam told journalists on Tuesday.While Lam said her government would provide the detainees and their families with the "needed and feasible" assistance, she said their treatment by the mainland authorities was entirely appropriate."Twelve Hong Kong residents were suspected of illegally entering mainland China ... and so they were detained by mainland Chinese law enforcement," Lam told a regular news briefing. "It is obvious that this case falls within mainland China's jurisdiction."She added, in comments reported by Reuters: "The reason for them leaving Hong Kong seems to be that they were running away from legal responsibility.""I want to set the record straight, because certain local and overseas individuals tried to shift the attention, describing them as democracy activists being oppressed," she said.While the Hong Kong authorities have called on other jurisdictions not to "harbor" people wanted on criminal charges in Hong Kong, they have repeatedly said they won't "interfere" in the cases of the 12 Shenzhen detainees."All 12 are suspected of committing crimes in Hong Kong, according to the city's security bureau, with 10 of them wanted for manufacturing or possessing explosives, arson, rioting, assaulting police officers, or possession of offensive weapons.Hong Kong arrests, prosecutionsAuthorities in the city are bringing hundreds of protest-related prosecutions dating from the anti-extradition and pro-democracy protests that began in June 2019 on a range of charges including unlawful assembly, assault, arson, and rioting.Thousands of people have been arrested since the movement began. A U.S. State Department report warned in March that the prosecutions of activists had infringed on the rights of Hongkongers to peaceful assembly and protest.The 12 Hongkongers are aged 16 to 33, and are being held on suspicion of "illegal immigration"  at the Yantian Detention Center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.They were intercepted by the China Coast Guard after they tried to escape by speedboat to the democratic island of Taiwan last month.Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, who referred to the 12 on Twitter as "elements attempting to separate Hong Kong from China," said on Tuesday that only one is suspected of "colluding with foreign powers" under a draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Hong Kong from July 1.The family members of six of the detainees held a press conference on Saturday, calling on the Hong Kong authorities to bring them back to the city as soon as possible.Growing concernsConcerns are growing over the lack of access to lawyers hired by their families and to adequate medical care.Pro-democracy lawmaker James To accused Lam's administration of operating a "double standard" when it came to Hong Kong detainees overseas."If the Hong Kong government believes that these 12 people have broken Hong Kong laws, shouldn't they be requesting that mainland China return them?" To said."[They] have already said that the five Hongkongers held in Taiwan [for illegal immigration] should be returned."He called on the Hong Kong authorities to do more to support the 12 detainees."The family members would like the Hong Kong government to show more concern, and to protect their rights and interests," To said.Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Two Get Death as Dong Tam Violent Land Dispute Trial Ends in Vietnam

A court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Monday sentenced two defendants to death, also handing down a life sentence and other sentences ranging from six years to 15-months’ probation, in the trial of 29 villagers over a deadly land-rights clash in January at the Dong Tam commune.Brothers Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong, both sentenced to death, had been charged with murder in the deaths of three police officers who were killed in the Jan. 9 clash when they were attacked by petrol bombs and fell into a concrete shaft while running between two houses.Their father, Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was also killed during the early-morning raid on the village by 3,000 security officers intervening in a long-running dispute over a  military airport construction site about 25 miles south of the capital.Le Dinh Cong’s son Le Dinh Doanh was sentenced on Monday to life in prison, while another defendant, Bui Viet Hieu, was given a 16-year prison term and Nguyen Quoc Tien and Nguyen Van Tuyen were handed 12 and 13 year terms respectively.Others received prison terms of five and six years, and 17 received suspended sentences, with 13 of that group released by the court, sources told RFA’s Vietnamese Service at the end of the trial, which began on Sept. 7 and ended last Thursday, with sentencing postponed till today. [embedded content] Nguyen Thi Duyen—niece-in-law of village leader Le Dinh Kinh, who was shot and killed by police during the raid—told RFA on Monday that she was not surprised by the outcome of the trial, saying, “I had prepared myself for the worst.”“Certainly, [the Vietnamese court and police] would have done all they could to ensure that the Dong Tam residents would have to endure long terms in jail,” she said.‘As I said in court there were four deaths to be accounted for in this case,” added defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng, also speaking to RFA. “Therefore, the court really needed to investigate and closely check what happened in all of those deaths.”“There was never enough evidence to charge Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc with murder,” Nguyen added.Calls for witnesses rejectedAt the trial, presiding judge Truong Viet Toan had rejected defense requests to summon as witnesses Hanoi chairman Nguyen Duc Chung—now held under detention in an unrelated corruption investigation—and representatives of the Ministry of Defense and Hanoi’s Public Security Department, saying these officials were not relevant to the case.Slain village elder Le Dinh Kinh’s widow Du Thi Thanh, mother of the two men sentenced to death, was also not allowed to appear as a witness in court, sources close to the trial said.On Monday, Du filed a petition with senior Vietnamese leaders, including Vietnam’s prime minister and the Minister of Police, denouncing Public Security Ministry spokesman To An Xo, who had referred in a recent statement to Le Dinh Kinh as a “new type of wicked landlord.”Before he was shot and killed by police, Le had never been prosecuted for any crime and had no criminal record, Du said in her petition, demanding that Vietnamese leaders hold To accountable for slandering her husband’s memory.Reached for comment on the trial, Hanoi-based dissident activist Nguyen Quang A slammed Monday’s sentences, calling Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party “deaf and blind” to justice. “The Vietnamese government always just imposes its will, resulting in atrocities and inhumane acts against [the country’s] people,” he said.'No surprise'“The heavy sentences against the Dong Tam defendants, including the death sentence against two persons, come as no surprise,” added Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch in a statement Monday.“Vietnam’s rulers are bending over backwards to show their toughest possible face against the Dong Tam villagers because they worry this community’s defiance could be contagious unless the defendants are hit with the most severe penalties,” Robertson said.“With the ruling communist party’s national congress just a few months away, there was never a possibility of anything but a rushed trial through a controlled court that would throw the book at these defendants.”Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, meanwhile called the Dong Tam raid and resulting trial “a culmination of 40 years of problems with land” in Vietnam.“Trials in Vietnam are not free and fair as we understand them,” Thayer said. “It’s not rule of law. It’s rule by law. The political decision is: you either put them on trial or you don’t. And if you’re putting them on trial, you’re predetermining [the outcome].”While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Changsha Rights Defenders Tried in Secret For 'Subversion'

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have secretly tried three non-governmental organization (NGO) workers, family members and rights groups said.Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wuge Jianxiong were indicted in secret for "subversion of state power" by prosecutors in Hunan's provincial capital, Changsha, on June 24.They were tried behind closed doors at the Changsha Intermediate People's Court last week.Their families weren't informed of the trial until afterwards, they told RFA.Cheng's wife Shi Minglei said she had only discovered that the trial had already happened when she called the court on Sept. 11 for an update on her husband's case.An official said the trial had taken place, and had been "open to the public," but a second official who attempted a search of court records for the trial said it had returned no results."They confirmed that the trial was held last week. They didn't tell me the outcome," Shi told RFA."When we went to the court to ask about the outcome of the trial, they couldn't find the case at all in the system," she said. "How can they call this a public trial?"Shi rejected the charges against her husband and the other two defendants."None of the work or activities undertaken by the Changsha Three was criminal in nature," Shi said. "They have no evidence or material facts [to back them up]."Shi said government-appointed lawyers wouldn't dwell on the lack of evidence against their clients."This trial was held secretly so as to cover up the illegal methods [they are using]," she said.The three defendants have been denied meetings with attorneys hired by their families since being detained on July 22, 2019.Fired under duressThe lawyers were told in March this year that the defenders had "dismissed" them and that the government had assigned them government-funded lawyers.The families said they believe that the lawyers were fired under duress, and said they have had no contact with the government-appointed lawyers.Rights lawyer Xie Yang said that was highly likely."They must have used means we don't know about to force the defendants to dismiss the lawyers hired by their families," Xie said.He said the court may also decide to issue the verdict and sentence in secret.Authorities in China have repeatedly put pressure on political prisoners to accept government-appointed lawyers, and to achieve a more lenient sentence by "confessing" to the charges against them.In some cases, they have issued letters "firing" the defense attorneys hired by their families.Changsha Funeng founder Yang Zhanqing, who is now in the U.S., said the Changsha Three were detained as part of a general crackdown on the organization.Yang has said that the main reason the authorities had targeted the three men was the fact that their rights work had received overseas funding, which the ruling Chinese Communist Party regards as "collusion with hostile foreign forces," and a threat to its national security.Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Chinese Dissident Property Tycoon Defends Himself at Trial

Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who was detained and expelled from the ruling Chinese Communist Party after penning an article highly critical of general secretary Xi Jinping, was planning to plead not guilty at his trial on Friday, sources told RFA.Ren opted to defend himself at the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, where he faced charges of bribery and abuse of power."He didn't request a defense attorney, but defended himself," a family member of another dissident told RFA on Friday, adding that there weren't many places available to family members to sit in the gallery during the trial."Ninety-nine percent of the small number of places for family members were taken up by officials from the court, prosecution, and other departments," the family member said.Veteran political journalist Gao Yu confirmed the report."Ren Zhiqiang had no lawyers, and he has declared he will conduct his own defense," Gao said.She said a prison term for the former boss of the Beijing Huayuan property group was a foregone conclusion."I think we are looking at 5-10 years, or maybe even more," Gao said.Sources told RFA Ren Zhiqiang has refused to "confess" or plead guilty to the charges against him since the start of the investigation.A person who witnessed the trial said Ren appeared to be in good spirits during the proceedings, which lasted through the morning and afternoon.The prosecution made its case in the morning session, detailing its evidence, much of which was based on company accounts and documents, the source said.The trial was adjourned at 3.00 p.m.Police checkpoints, tight securitySecurity was tight outside the court building, with police setting up a cordon and checkpoints in the streets outside from around 6.00 a.m., eyewitnesses said.Only those with special invitations were allowed inside the building, one eyewitness said via social media.A Beijing resident surnamed Wang said Ren's trial occupied a similar level of concern among the Communist Party leadership as that of Nobel peace laureate and political dissident Liu Xiaobo."You couldn't get anywhere near [the court]," Wang said. "There was a lot of attention to Ren's case from foreign embassy and consular staff, who normally follow the cases of dissidents in China."Chongqing-based journalist Zhang Ying said there was a strong police presence on the streets outside the court."They fortified the gate of the No. 2 Intermediate Court, and nobody could get near it," Zhang told RFA. "There were a large number of police, both plainclothes and uniformed.""Ren Zhiqiang's trial has attracted a lot of public attention inside China, because he is a princeling who dared to oppose [Xi]," Zhang said. "He's obviously a man of conscience."Zhang said Ren is unlikely to get off lightly for his open show of opposition to Xi, who is currently serving an indefinite term in office.Sources said European, U.S., Australian, and Japanese diplomats had all been denied access to the court.Expelled from the partyThe Xicheng district branch of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's disciplinary arm, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) in Beijing, said in July that it had expelled Ren from the party and handed over the case materials to the municipal prosecutor's office for prosecution.Ren was expelled for "violations of party discipline and the law," and had "brought country and party into disrepute," exhibited disloyalty to the party, and behaved in a dishonest manner, resisting investigation, it said."Ren ... used his power for personal gain, wining and dining on public funds in violation of regulations," the CCDI said. He had also caused "major losses" to state coffers, it said, adding that at least some of Ren's assets were being confiscated.Ren, 69, was probed by the CCDI after writing an open letter about Xi's responses to the coronavirus epidemic, the Sino-U.S. trade war and the Taiwan elections.Sources have said investigators handled the letter, which took the form of a long and highly critical essay, as an instance of "internal strife" within the ruling party.Act of defianceXi was reportedly furious at the letter, saying Ren was "incorrigible," and designated Ren's letter an "act of defiance against me."The letter attributed to Ren doesn't mention Xi by name, but criticizes his policies, including the president's insistence that the media are part of the same family as the ruling party, and must always represent its interests."When the media have the same name as the party, it's the people who are left out," the letter said. "The coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan has shown us just how true that is."The article, titled "The lives of the people are ruined by the virus and a seriously sick system," doesn't mention President Xi by name, but it takes aim at decisions made under his direct command, including the decision to go ahead with a mass Lunar New Year banquet for thousands of people that resulted in a huge cluster of COVID-19 cases in the weeks that followed.Xi has ordered China's media to follow the party line, focus on "positive reporting," and "speak the party's will and protect the party's authority and unity."Ren was berated by state media in 2016 for causing chaos and for failing to stand up for the party, and for "pursuing Western constitutionalism."Reported by Qiao Long and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Coronavirus Citizen Journalist Faces Prosecution on Public Order Charges

Authorities in Shanghai are moving ahead with the prosecution of a citizen journalist who reported on the emerging coronavirus epidemic in the central Chinese city of Wuhan earlier this year.Zhang Zhan, who lives in Shanghai but who traveled to Wuhan in early February, was taken away from Wuhan's Caiguang Hotel near Hankou railway station on the night of May 14.She was held by police near her home in Shanghai's Pudong district on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.Zhang was then formally arrested on that charge on June 19 on the orders of the Pudong state prosecutor, and is currently being held in the Pudong Detention Center.She recently dismissed her defense attorney, Ren Quanniu, who had been hired by her mother, her mother told RFA in a recent interview.Zhang is currently being force-fed in detention after she started a hunger strike to protest against her treatment."I don’t know what to do now," her mother told RFA. "Only Ren can take this case, although he's from out of town and it's a long way for him to come.""This will affect Zhang Zhan's whole life," she said. "I am worried that things could get serious if this goes on for a long time."However, she declined to comment on Zhang's hunger strike.Zhang's father declined to comment when contacted by RFA."I can't talk right now: I am driving and I am on the expressway," he said.Pressured by policeRen said the family is currently under pressure from state security police in Shanghai."Zhang Zhan's mother didn't want to end my instruction, but ... the state security police were putting pressure on her, so it was hard for her to decide," he said.He said he had been told "don't come any more," by state prosecutor Zhao Xing of the Shanghai municipal procuratorate, who said the decision to fire Ren had come from Zhang's family.Zhao told him that another lawyer had been hired by the authorities to replace him."I will continue to act as [an informal] representative," Ren told RFA.A friend of the Zhang family surnamed Wang said Shanghai police had initially tried to have Zhang Zhan committed to a psychiatric hospital, but the family refused to allow this, so the plan was dropped in favor of pressing criminal charges.Solidarity with Hong KongZhang, 40, was detained by police in Shanghai in September 2019 for holding up an umbrella in solidarity with the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement on the streets of Shanghai, and demanding an end to Communist Party rule.She was released after 65 days in detention, during which time she went on hunger strike twice.Zhang moved to Shanghai from the northern province of Shaanxi in 2010, and formerly worked as a lawyer before official retaliation took away her license to practice.In Zhang's last YouTube video posted on May 13, she had reported on the impact of a huge fall in passenger numbers on the livelihoods of Wuhan's taxi drivers, as well as loss of employment in the wake of the lockdown among the city's residents.She also spoke out against the intimidation of local people by the urban management police, or chengguan, and about a sense of despair at life in China.The Chinese government has targeted thousands of people for speaking out about the coronavirus epidemic in the country since it began in late December in the central city of Wuhan.Between Jan. 1 and March 26, nearly 900 internet users were penalized by police for their online speech or info-sharing about the coronavirus epidemic, across almost every province, region, and municipality in China.Charges used to question, detain, and arrest people included "rumor-mongering," "fabricating false information," “sowing panic,” “disturbing public order,” and "breach of privacy."Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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