December 30, 2015
(Pu Zhiqiang in 2011, talking to the media in Beijing.)
Pu Zhiqiang is a well-known Chinese human rights lawyer and outspoken intellectual who has taken on many precedent-setting cases defending freedom and protecting civil liberties. But his outstanding contributions in the judicial realm and his tremendous influence have made him a target of the Chinese government. On May 4, 2014, along with a dozen intellectuals, scholars, and writers, he attended a private meeting in commemoration of the June 4 Tiananmen Square incident. On May 6, he was detained by police on the suspicion of “picking quarrels.” On June 13, the Beijing police announced that he had been formally charged with “picking quarrels” and “illegally accessing citizens’ personal information.” The police then added the charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “inciting national splittism,” and turned the case over to the Beijing procuratorate, requesting that prosecutors charge Pu with these four crimes.
According to the accusation made public by Pu’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, in the end Pu was charged with two crimes on the basis of “seven Weibo posts totaling over 600 characters,” namely “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels.” The main evidence presented by prosecutors consisted of Weibo posts made by Pu between 2011 and 2015 (winnowed down from 30 posts to seven by May 2015) that criticized Chinese officials, People’s Congress representatives, and the government, as well as discussed official policies in Xinjiang, and the March 2014 Kunming train station knife attacks.
On December 14, as the trial officially commenced at the Second Intermediate Court of Beijing, Pu Zhiqiang proclaimed his innocence. Before this, his lawyers made public that Pu believed posting comments about public events and public figures on Weibo is covered by the Chinese constitutional right of each citizen to freedom of speech.
As the case went on, many legal experts wrote articles that analyzed Pu’s Weibo postings as lightly satirical and perhaps containing improper passages, but not constituting a crime. In fact, such an analysis does not require specialized legal knowledge; even non-specialists will come to the same conclusion via common sense.
It is surprising then that in their decision on December 22, the Second Intermediate Court of Beijing found Pu Zhiqiang guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and picking quarrels, and sentenced him to a three-year suspended sentence. This is not a “legal victory” as painted by the official media, but rather a tremendous disgrace of the so-called “rule of law.”