The Wall Street Journal: Outspoken Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Indicted

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Wall Street Journal
May 15, 2015 10:17 a.m. ET

Pu Zhiqiang indicted on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and ‘picking quarrels’

BEIJING—A prominent, outspoken Chinese human rights lawyer, already detained for a year, was indicted Friday on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and “picking quarrels” and his case given to a court that usually handles serious criminal cases.

The charges against Pu Zhiqiang appear to draw heavily from social media postings made over the course of a few years prior to his detention. Prosecutors told Beijing’s No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court that Mr. Pu disturbed social order by severely cursing others online “on multiple occasions,” according to a statement posted by prosecutors on their verified feed on Weibo Corp.’s microblogging site.

Pu Zhiqiang, seen in a June 2010 photo, has been formally
indicted, more than a year after he was taken into police
custody. (Photo: Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)
A lawyer for Mr. Pu rejected the charges as baseless. “All he did was go on Weibo and publish his opinions about public figures and public incidents,” said Shang Baojun, the lawyer. “It was all within the range of the freedom of speech provided under China’s constitution.”

The prosecutor’s office declined requests for further comment.

The indictment of Mr. Pu comes a little over a year after he was taken away by state security agents following his participation in a small commemoration of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing. As a lawyer, Mr. Pu defended high-profile dissidents like artist Ai Weiwei and was known for his ability to avoid the country’s political red lines. His arrest symbolized for many Chinese activists the plummeting tolerance for dissent under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Human rights lawyers and experts noted that prosecutors had filed the indictment with a court that typically handles serious crimes that carry a potential life sentence and those involving threats to national security.

Neither of the charges mentioned in Friday’s indictment meet those conditions, according to Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer. “That means they see this as a major case, a case with significant impact,” Mr. Liu said.

Friday’s announcement comes days ahead of the legal deadline for authorities to either indict or release Mr. Pu. Documents compiled by Mr. Pu’s lawyers from a list of evidence provided by prosecutors last year showed most the charges being linked to a series of 28 messages he posted to Weibo between 2011 and 2014. The messages included a spirited attack on Lei Feng, a Communist Party propaganda icon from the 1960s, and criticism of a deadly terrorist attack on a railway station in the city of Kunming in 2013.

Authorities attributed the attack to terrorists from the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where many members of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic group chafe at what they see as discriminatory government policies. Mr. Pu’s posts chided the government for not recognizing the role its policies may have played in driving some to desperate acts.

Mr. Pu’s lawyer, Mr. Shang, said he had yet to see the full indictment and it wasn’t clear whether prosecutors had amassed new evidence. Two other charges previously leveled against Mr. Pu by prosecutors—illegally obtaining personal information and separatism—weren’t mentioned in the prosecutor’s statement. That, Mr. Shang said, suggested police had failed to find anything new to hold against his client.

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