20 February 2019
Pu Zhiqiang can never practice law again because of the criminal conviction. Photo: Voice of America
Pu Zhiqiang can never practice law again because of the criminal conviction. Photo: Voice of America

Prominent China rights lawyer convicted but avoids jail

A Chinese court on Tuesday convicted a prominent rights lawyer of “inciting ethnic hatred” and trouble-making.

Pu Zhiqiang (蒲志強) was handed down a three-year suspended sentence, which means he won’t go to jail but he will not be able to practice law again, Reuters reported.

Activists said the sentence would serve as a strong reminder to other rights lawyers not to challenge the Communist Party’s rule.

The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court said Pu was being punished on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, state television CCTV said on its microblog.

The 50-year-old lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison but given a three-year reprieve, said his lawyer, Shang Baojun.

The suspended sentence means Pu does not have to serve prison time as long as he stays under formal probation during that period, legal experts said.

Pu was expected to be released on Tuesday, Shang said, although he could be placed under “residential surveillance” – a form of detention in China that is used to keep dissidents in sites away from the public eye.

Pu has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) and activists of the “New Citizens’ Movement”, a group that has called on Chinese leaders to make their wealth public.

He was the most prominent activist swept up in what rights groups say is the most severe clampdown on dissent in two decades in China.

Pu had spent nearly 19 months in detention before his trial last week, which lasted just over three hours. His lawyers said he could have faced eight years in prison.

Shang said Pu was relieved and would not appeal against the court ruling.

“He said he thanks everyone and he wants to rest,” Shang said, recounting a private conversation Pu had with his lawyers after the verdict.

“He also said if there’s an opportunity, history will deliver a true judgment.”

The charges against Pu were based on seven microblog posts that he had published online, criticizing China’s ethnic policy in the troubled western region of Xinjiang and several officials, according to his lawyers.

State news agency Xinhua said the court decided “to impose a lenient punishment” due to “the fact that the defendant Pu Zhiqiang truthfully confessed to the facts of the crime and positively pleaded guilty”.

However, Shang said Pu did not plead guilty.

“Having a criminal conviction means he can definitely never practice law again,” said lawyer Liang Xiaojun.

On Tuesday, police and plainclothes security officers prevented foreign reporters, Pu’s supporters and diplomats from the United States, the European Union and Switzerland from approaching the courthouse.

Britain, China in rare clash over shoving of diplomats (Dec. 18, 2015)

Trial of human rights lawyer lasts just 3 hours (Dec. 14, 2015)

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