The three year suspended prison sentence handed down against human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang is a deliberate attempt by the Chinese authorities to shackle a champion of freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
On Tuesday, a court in Beijing sentenced Pu Zhiqiang to three years in prison, suspended for three years, for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and “inciting ethnic hatred”. The conviction was primarily based on seven social media posts, in total approximately 600 characters, in which Pu criticized government officials and polices.
“Clearly it is positive that Pu Zhiqiang is unlikely to spend another night in jail, yet that cannot hide the gross injustice against him. He is no criminal and this guilty verdict effectively shackles one of China’s bravest champions of human rights from practicing law,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.
“Pu Zhiqiang has already been detained for more than 18 months, and despite investigating Pu for so long, the only ‘evidence’ the authorities could muster against him were seven social media posts in which he criticized the government. He is one of China’s most courageous defenders of the right to freedom of expression, and he’s been persecuted for simply exercising that right.”
On Tuesday morning, police detained at least 12 activists outside Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court who had come to show their support for Pu Zhiqiang.
At Pu’s trial on 14 December, unidentified individuals and police manhandled foreign journalists, diplomats and his supporters outside the court. Approximately 20 of his supporters were taken away by police. At least four people are now criminally detained for taking part in the peaceful protest, and have been denied access to lawyers. A further five supporters have not been heard from since and it is feared they are also detained.
“The disgraceful police operation outside Pu Zhiqiang’s trial only underscores why China needs defenders of free speech like Pu more than ever. All those detained solely for peacefully expressing their support for Pu should also be immediately and unconditionally released,” said William Nee.
Pu Zhiqiang was originally detained by police on 6 May 2014, after he attended a private seminar in Beijing that called for an investigation into the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. He has represented individuals in many ‘sensitive’ human rights cases, including those linked with the ‘New Citizens’ Movement’, a loose network of activists who aim to promote government transparency and expose corruption.