Journalists, Diplomats Harassed at Lawyer’s Trial

After 19 months of detention, the trial of rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on Monday lasted three hours. Despite a repeatedly extended investigation, the evidence against him had dwindled to only seven online comments in which prosecutors claim he incited ethnic hatred and “picked quarrels.” From Aritz Parra at The Associated Press:

Chinese protesters and foreign rights groups said Pu’s trial at the No. 2 Beijing Intermediate Court amounted to political persecution, and foreign governments including the U.S. called for his release. The trial concluded about midday, and Pu’s lawyer said a verdict and sentence would be delivered at a later date.

[…] Pu was active in defending free speech and represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei in a tax evasion case that Ai’s supporters said was politically motivated. He also was instrumental in pushing for the eventual abolishment of the labour camp system, which allowed to lock up people for up to four years without a trial.

About 50 protesters had gathered at the courthouse along with a couple dozen journalists and about a dozen Western diplomats, but all of them were denied entrance. Police and plainclothes security officers wearing yellow smiley-face stickers pushed journalists and protesters away from the court entrance area. They threw one of the protesters the ground and took away several others.

[…] Pu’s other lawyer said prosecutors had not demonstrated that any of Pu’s postings had provoked troubles or incited ethnic tensions.

“This is really a case of freedom of expression, in which no harm to anyone has been proven,” Mo said in an interview after the trial. [Source]

Pu’s case has become a symbol of the broader crackdown on civil society under Xi Jinping. Critics say the justice system has been used as a political weapon, confirming the Party’s vision of law as a knife, and not a shield. Before the trial, Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson described Pu’s looming sentence as a “canary in the coalmine” for the future of this trend, and commented that “a guilty verdict will be an indictment of the Chinese government, its law, and its legal system – not of Pu.”

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China condemned police obstruction outside the courthouse:

Uniformed security officers as well as men who appeared to be plainclothes officers yelled at, shoved and otherwise sought to obstruct journalists in their normal course of work outside the Beijing courthouse.

FCCC members report at least one foreign journalist was slammed to the ground by a security officer. Others were pushed, shoved and punched in the back as they were hustled away from the site. Security officials physically manhandled several TV journalists. Diplomats were subjected to similar violence and journalists attempting to interview diplomats on site were also blocked.

Some members also report that police attempted to thwart coverage by demanding impromptu meetings at the same time as the trial was getting underway.

This effort to deter news coverage is a gross violation of Chinese government rules governing foreign correspondents, which expressly permit them to interview anybody who consents to be interviewed. [Source]

Journalists’ tweets from the scene showed the aggressive police actions: