Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Human Rights Lawyer on Trial in Beijing

Pu Zhiqiang was on trial yesterday for what he wrote on Weibo
Yesterday one of China's most outspoken human rights lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang defended himself in court on charges of inciting ethnic hatred or "provoked trouble" by writing microblog commentaries critical of the Communist Party.

Pu's lawyer Shang Baojun said the three-hour trial at Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court ended with no verdict, though he expected one "very soon".

The trial took place 19 months after Pu was detained by police after he attended a private seminar to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Many believe his detainment and subsequent trial are a way to silence him and warn other rights advocates not to speak out.

Plainclothes police in black masks shoved supporters around
Pu is charged with "inciting ethnic hatred" and "provoking quarrels and provoking trouble" for the content of seven Weibo messages he posted online between July 2011 and May 2014.

He could face up to eight years in jail.

The online messages are mostly critical of the government's handling of an ethnic conflict in Kunming, Yunnan province last year, and sarcastic comments about two officials.

Shang, Pu's lawyer, said while Pu admitted his microblog writing style was "sharp, caustic and sometimes vulgar", "he said he didn't think he had incited ethnic hatred or provoked trouble. He had no such intention," Shang said.

Pu was not asked whether he admitted to his guilt during the trial.

Security was tight outside the courthouse and while there were many supporters, some of whom were pushed around forcefully by plainclothes police wearing black face masks while talking to foreign media.

Even foreign diplomats were roughly handled, including American diplomat Dan Biers who tried to read out a statement. It took a while before the situation calmed down before he could read it out in its entirety.

A supporter was forcefully pushed to the ground while filmed
He said the United States embassy called for Pu's release and urged "China to uphold fundamental civil rights and fair trial guarantees".

"Lawyers and civil society leaders such as Mr Pu should not be subject to continued repression but should be allowed to contribute to the building of a prosperous and stable society," Biers read out in his statement.

Some of Pu's supporters outside the courthouse chanted, "Pu Zhiqiang, not guilty!"

"He is a good lawyer who helped the underprivileged. He should never be convicted," said Zhang Jie, a petitioner from Jilin province.

Another from Henan province said: "How can he be charged just because of a few words he said?"

China law expert Eva Pils at King's College, London, said Pu's trial was "part of a crackdown on civil society [and] was clearly related to his free speech advocacy and role as a government critic".

"The authorities have made it clear that they see rights lawyers in particular as enemies of the state [and] that it treats the human rights movement as a subversive force it aims to annihilate," she said.

There are health concerns for Pu as he suffers from diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Requests for bail have been rejected by the court.

China needs people like Pu to hold the government accountable, but the authorities clearly see him as a threat. We shall see what the verdict is, but it probably won't be what we are hoping for...

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