BEIJING: One of China’s most celebrated human rights lawyers went on trial Monday over online comments critical of the ruling Communist Party, as police scuffled with supporters and journalists gathered outside the courthouse.
Pu Zhiqiang, who has represented labor camp victims and dissident artist Ai Weiwei, was detained a year and a half ago in a nationwide crackdown on dissent.
He faces a maximum of eight years in jail on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to his lawyer Mo Shaoping.
Beijing’s Number Two Intermediate People’s Court will consider the evidence — seven
posts the lawyer made on a microblog between 2011 and 2014 — in a trial Monday, Mo has told AFP.
Police stationed outside the courthouse clashed with Pu’s supporters and authorities dragged at least three people away, an AFP reporter at the scene saw.
Officers and unidentified plainclothes men pushed and shouted at senior US diplomat Dan Biers as he tried to read a statement condemning the trial.
The posts at the center of the case include messages questioning a state media account of a deadly knife attack blamed on assailants from the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, and another accusing Communist Party officials of “lying.” “Lawyers and civil society leaders such as Mr Pu should not be subject to continuing repression but should be allowed to contribute to the building of a prosperous and stable China,” Biers said.
“We urge Chinese authorities to release Mr. Pu and call upon China to uphold fundamental civil rights.”
A diplomat speaking on behalf of the European Union was also shouted down as she delivered a statement criticizing the process outside the court.
Videos posted on social media showed around a dozen supporters chanting, “Pu Zhiqiang is innocent!” outside the court.
“China has too few good lawyers — he was one of the few,” Yao Lianshe, a citizen who goes to as many trials as he can despite frequent police harassment, told AFP.
“Nothing in China will ever change for the better unless the people are unafraid to stand up to authority and bear witness.”
Pu, 50, is the latest person to be tried in a crackdown on critics of the Communist Party overseen by President Xi Jinping, which has seen hundreds detained and dozens sent to prison.
He is virtually certain to be convicted in the Communist-controlled court.