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Chinese human rights lawyer faces 8 years in prison for criticizing Chinese policies in Tibet

May 18, 2015

By Verna Yu

South China Morning Post, May 15, 2015 - Beijing prosecution authorities on Friday indicted veteran human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on the charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, having dropped two other charges.

But his lawyer says he still faces up to eight years in jail.

A posting on the official microblog of the Beijing People Procuratorate’s second branch said Pu’s crime was “serious” because he repeatedly posted messages on his microblog account to “incite ethnic hatred” and “openly insult others”. His acts “damaged social order” and he “should be held criminally responsible”, it added.

Pu, who has been detained for a year, was previously also charged with “inciting separatism” and “illegally obtaining personal information”. He was put in criminal detention in May last year after he joined an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

On Friday, his lawyer Shang Baojun said he was pleased that those charges had been dismissed, but said “he shouldn’t be indicted with a single charge”.

But he noted that Pu still faces a maximum jail sentence of eight years with the current two charges.

“He was incriminated for the opinions he expressed, just because he posted about 30 microblog messages – I don’t think this is acceptable,” Shang said.

Shang said Pu’s opinions should be within the parameters of free speech and should be protected by the constitution.

Shang earlier said Pu’s microblog messages from 12 Weibo accounts between 2011 and last year were used to indict him. His commentaries were mostly sarcastic criticisms of the Communist Party and its policies towards ethnic minorities and neighbouring countries.

Human rights advocates say Pu’s arrest is aimed at silencing him and is part of the wider crackdown on rights lawyers, activists and civil society under President Xi Jinping’s ideological campaign.

In his commentaries, Pu had been highly critical of the party. “From top to bottom, the Communist Party cannot survive without telling lies,” he said in one post.

He also poked fun at officials including Shen Jilan, an elderly legislator who claims never to have voted “no” in parliamentary sessions, and Mao Xinyu, the grandson of Mao Zedong and a major general in the People’s Liberation Army.

“Apart from luck and bloodlines,” Pu wrote, Shen and Mao held senior posts by “pretending to be a fool and being a real fool”.

He also criticised China’s ethnic policies in Xinjiang and Tibet.

He lambasted the hardline policies of former Xinjiang party chief Wang Lequan following the deadly knife attack at a Kunming railway station in March last year that was blamed on Uygur separatists.

“I can believe that the terror was created by Xinjiang pro-independence [forces] – but this is the outcome, not the cause,” he wrote. “Wang Lequan ... you’re most familiar with that place, tell me: Why? Who are they aiming at?”

Pu also criticised Beijing’s governance of Tibet, saying the rules ordering Tibetan monasteries to hang Chinese leaders’ portraits and prohibiting Muslim men from growing beards and women from wearing veils were “mad”.

While criticising Japan’s wartime atrocities in China, one of his posts said: “If China was ruled by Japan, it would have been 10,000 times better than now.”

William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said charges against Pu were "an act political persecution" and the chances of him receiving a fair trial were "close to zero”. 

Pu has represented many government critics in high-profile rights cases, including artist Ai Weiwei.

“With this prosecution, the authorities are sending a warning to all lawyers that take up ‘sensitive’ cases: “fall in line or we’ll go after you". This harassment of those that defend the rights of ordinary citizens must end,” said Nee.

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