Pu Zhiqiang, Chinese human rights lawyer on trial for a series of tweets (Image AFP)
Demonstrators gathered outside a Beijing court on Monday to protest the detention of Pu Zhiqiang (50) a human rights lawyer and challenge China’s continued clampdown on freedom of expression under President Xi Jinping. Pu took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He was detained in 2014 in relation to 7 social media posts where he is accused of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. This could mean a jail sentence of up to 8 years. Human Rights Watch stated that Pu’s comments were “wholly protected under international law” and claimed that he had “been denied adequate medical treatment”.
“Pu Zhiqiang, Innocent” is written on posters displayed by Pu’s supporters (Image AFP)
The Guardian reported,
“In one of Pu’s supposedly illicit posts, written in the aftermath of a deadly terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, he attacked the Communist party’s policies in Xinjiang, a violence-stricken region of western China that is home to the Uighur ethnic minority.
In another Pu mocked Mao Zedong’s grandson, Mao Xinyu, and an elderly member of China’s rubber-stamp parliament who had admitted to never opposing Communist party policy during her 60-year career.
A third Weibo post, for which Pu has also been charged, saw him attack a government official following a 2011 high-speed rail disaster which claimed 40 lives and saw authorities accused of attempting a cover-up.”
Pu’s supporters were jostled by police and plainclothes security forces wearing face masks (more likely to conceal identity than shield from the smog) as they held up placards calling for freedom of speech and declaring Pu “not guilty”. The scene took on a slightly surreal quality as men displaying yellow smiley-face stickers on their jackets pushed activists, journalists and diplomats away from the court building and along the street.
Philip Wen, China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age tweeted a photo of the aggression shown by plain clothes police. He compared the Pu demonstration with previous protests saying, “worse today. To me seems like Beijing wants to deliberately send a message that outside pressure won’t affect how it tries its activists.”
“One plain clothes man in a red bomber jacket put hand on my neck repeatedly, pushed me to the floor” (Image via Philip Wen)
Scuffles as Chinese human rights lawyer
#PuZhiqiang stands trial
(Image via Kristie Lu Stout, CNN)
Crowds protest Pu Zhiqiang’s innocence (Image PH Yang photography)
Chris Smith Chair Rep, Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) said, “holding sham trials to convict rights defenders does nothing to demonstrate the Communist Party’s strength or enhance its international prestige. Whatever the verdict may be, this trial is an indictment of the Chinese legal system and not Pu Zhiqiang.” The Wall Street Journal reported, “diplomats from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France and several other countries as well as the European Union attempted to attend the trial, but were turned away.”
Fergus Ryan, a Beijing based journalist posted the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China statement on assault of journalists outside Pu Zhiqiang’s trial.
Pu Zhiqiang is one of a long list of campaigners that have seen the sharp end of state bullying tactics, others include, Hu Jia activist on democracy, HIV/AIDS , environment, Wan Yanhai, AIDS activist (now living in US) Ai Weiwei, artist and activist, Zeng Jinyan, blogger and human rights activist. CECC said,
“President Xi has waged an extraordinary assault on rights defenders and civil society in recent years. Until the release of Pu Zhiqiang and the many other political prisoners is a clear and consistent priority of U.S.-China relations, the Chinese government will continue to believe that it can act with impunity and without any consequences. To send a clear message, the Administration should bar every judge, prosecutor, and security official associated with this trial from getting U.S. entry visas and taking part in U.S.-funded programs.”
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Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.