More than a year and a half after prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang’s detention ahead of the 25th anniversary of the June 4th crackdown, Chinese authorities have finally announced that he will stand trial on Monday. Pu faces charges of inciting ethnic hatred and “picking quarrels” in online comments. From Tom Phillips at The Guardian:
In another era, Pu Zhiqiang might have live-tweeted the Tiananmen massacre. Instead, as the bloodbath unfolded around him on that pre-smartphone night in the early summer of 1989, the student leader took a solemn vow: if he made it out with his life he would use it to give voice to those who had died.
[…] Pu, now 50, went on to become China’s most admired and rambunctious advocate of free speech; an internet-savvy civil rights lawyer and Communist party critic whose withering and often witty online critiques of the party earned him tens of thousands of online followers but also made him an avowed enemy of the Chinese state.
[… American academic Perry] Link, whose criticism of Beijing has seen him banned from entering China, said Chinese authorities had tried – but failed – to uncover more serious offences to justify Pu’s politically motivated jailing. “They were trying to find that he was sexually promiscuous, or that he had avoided taxes or was corrupt [or] a traitor,” he said. “But I think what we learn now when we see that there is only seven tweets as the evidence, is that they essentially came up empty on all of that.”
Link said he suspected there was considerable embarrassment, even within the Communist party itself, “at the prospect of putting a man away for tweeting”. [Source]
In a February essay at The New York Review of Books, Link wrote that Pu’s careful navigation within the law had left the authorities “inventing a crime” in order to silence him. Despite repeatedly extending their investigation, prosecutors’ stock of evidence only appears to have dwindled. One of the original charges (illegally obtaining citizens’ private information) and one of two added in November 2014 (inciting separatism) have been dropped, and the number of weibo posts cited against Pu has fallen from 28 to 12, including only seven distinct messages. A release by Mo’s law firm included the Chinese text of these remaining posts, while Quartz’s Zheping Huang posted full translations, explained context, and noted questions over the authorship of some passages.
2013-01-31 Comments: 242 Retweets: 249
Besides luck and bloodline, the reason Shen Jilan could become a delegate and Mao Xinyu could become a committee member is because they are either playing fools or being real fools. This means the NPC and CPPCC are nothing. If one wants to live like a duck in the water, either you play the fool or become a real fool. I don’t expect Mao to be smart. I hope Shen [could realize] being alive is lighter than a feather, death is weightier than Mount Tai. How good it would be if you die! You are already 84 and have been a NPC delegate for 60 years. Now it finally comes to a crucial point. Why not die on the battlefield and blackmail the NPC to win the title of an upright and principled woman?
2014-3-2 Comments: 1071 Retweets: 1930
What happened in Kunming was too bloody. The murders are very sinful. I believe this time that it is Xinjiang separatist forces that made the terror attack. But it is the result, not the cause. Such a severe result, with so many people dead and injured, you just explained to me with one sentence: That it is because of Xinjiang separatist forces, but not your responsibility. I am not satisfied with that. You have been boasting of the Party’s policies, saying Uygur ethnic groups support the Party, how come the bloody thing happened? President of the Law Society Wang Lequan, you reigned over the west region for over a decade, and you are familiar with the region. You tell me, why is this happening? Who is the target?” [Source]
Read about “what happened in Kunming” and the ongoing controversy over the causes of this and other attacks, via CDT.
Pu himself insists that his comments do not constitute criminal acts. Shang Baojun, one of his lawyers, said this week that “he admitted that his remarks were emotionally charged, sarcastic and even rude sometimes, he is willing to apologise. But he doesn’t think he has broken the law.”
At China Real Time last week, Berkeley’s Stanley Lubman highlighted the continual delays in Pu’s prosecution and the last-minute charges brought against activist Yang Maodong (aka Guo Feixiong), who was recently sentenced to six years in prison. These cases, he said, show that “the criminal process remains a crude tool of Communist Party policy in China.”
The treatment of these two men demonstrates the continuing use of authoritarian and arbitrary punishment of alleged sources of social unrest.
The use of the courts to punish activists is part of the broader campaign by the party-state to tighten control over society. Its focus on the media is clear: China was ranked 176th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 index of worldwide press freedom.
[…] The anxiety over control may provide the answer to a question: Why has handling the activists’ cases taken so long? One possible reason is that the party became preoccupied with the threatened collapse of the stock market and other financial problems, and the leadership did not want to risk raising social discontent in a society already beset with anxiety and doubts about prevailing policies.
Whatever the cause, the handling of these cases demonstrates China’s use of the courts for purely political purposes. [Source]
Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson argued similarly late last month:
If China had a truly independent, impartial and professional judicial system, Pu would never have been in detention in the first place; the publicly available evidence shows nothing that would substantiate the charges against him. Such a judicial system would not have allowed such prolonged detention before the suspect saw a judge, was able to challenge the basis for his detention, and had regular access to family and lawyers.
Pu languishes in detention precisely because China’s legal system is so nakedly politicized. Because Beijing cannot decide what do with Pu, whose case has attracted considerable international attention, it will use the “legal” system to continue silencing him. [Source]
Following the announcement of the trial date, Richardson called for “an extraordinary gesture of solidarity and support for human rights” by foreign ambassadors:
Many diplomats in Beijing representing the 36 countries with a stated interest in improving human rights are rightly pessimistic about the outcome of Pu’s, and other similar cases. Those diplomats who have fought hard – with the Chinese government and/or within their own governments for stronger support for human rights – wonder what can make a difference in this case. It is a reasonable question, particularly in light of the all-out assault against human rights and the rule of law by President Xi Jinping and his allies.
[… A]t a trial that will be closely watched across the country and the globe, what better way to demonstrate high-level concern and solidarity than by appearing together? Not only would this significantly raise the price for Beijing as it calculates just how long to lock Pu away, it would also send a powerful message of support to those facing similar reprisals as Pu – people who work on issues these governments say they support, like independent media, environmental protection, anti-corruption, women’s rights, and legal reform. [Source]
An editorial in the state-run Global Times warned that “China’s judiciary will not accept the West setting the tone for Pu’s case. It has not done so for Liu Xiaobo, either.”
The U.K., which this week praised China’s progress in human rights even as the U.N. condemned its justice system’s reliance on torture, has already indicated that its ambassador will not attend, though it will send a lower-ranking embassy official. Britain has drawn mounting criticism for its reluctance to confront China on rights issues, while London police are now facing an official complaint regarding treatment of rights protesters during Xi Jinping’s visit in October.
Pu’s case is more exceptional in its prominence than in its other dimensions. Jun Mai at South China Morning Post last week highlighted the case of a petitioner sentenced to three years in prison for blackmailing the government, for example:
Ge Limei, from Shoushan village, Harbin, in Heilongjiang province became a petitioner after her husband Li Jidong died in 2010 while serving a jail sentence for an unspecified crime.
The official autopsy said Li died of malnutrition, but Ge insisted that she saw bruises on her husband’s body, The Beijing News reported.
[…] Shu Xiangxin, Ge’s lawyer doubted the verdict, saying chat history of messages on her phone suggested that Ge had repeatedly stated that she had sought a legal solution to the case instead of money.
Hong Daode, a law professor with China University of Political Science and Law, said that under mainland law, victims of blackmail had to be a person, and the government was not a person. [Source]
The recent release on medical parole of journalist Gao Yu from a seven-year sentence for leaking state secrets might appear to offer some encouragement. But Gao, who had previously maintained her innocence, appears to have been pushed into a second forced confession. From Verna Yu at South China Morning Post:
Legal experts say political prisoners in China are often pushed to own up their supposed guilt in the absence of evidence to incriminate them, even though confessions alone are not allowed as evidence against defendants under Chinese law.
[…] Liang Xiaojun, a director of the Beijing Daoheng Law Firm, said extracted confessions were often a “face-saving” way out for authorities – an attempt to prove that they are right in detaining someone even when they find little evidence of an offence and also to smear the government critics they want to rein in.
[…] The authorities often first arrest people they see as troublemakers, raid their homes to look for incriminating evidence and pressure them to admit a crime, then use catch-all charges such as public order or state security charges to indict them, he said.
Eva Pils, a China law expert at King’s College, London, said TV confessions by “suspects” at the early stages of detention were against the spirit of the rule of law and intended to establish a presumption of guilt in the mind of the public. She said the fact that Gao withdrew her “admission” at her initial trial and “confessed” again when she was seriously ill “weakened the credibility of her confession”. [Source]
That Gao was released at all, though, may be a sign that despite Global Times’ claims, foreign pressure can help in such cases. Christoph Straesser, the German government’s Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, made this case in an interview with Deutsche Welle’s Dang Yuan:
Germany and other Western governments have repeatedly called for Gao’s release, and DW reported extensively about the case. Do you think the international attention drawn by governments and independent media contributed to Gao being allowed to spend her sentence outside of prison?
Based on the results – yes – but it’s difficult to concretely determine which circumstances led to her medical bail. We have repeatedly pointed out that it is important for humanitarian reasons that Gao receives adequate medical care given that she had another heart attack in October. I believe that this insistence – not only by the public, but also through diplomatic channels – ultimately helped her.
When you point to specific human rights violations to your partners in China, are you meddling in China’s internal affairs?
No. In my opinion, this is an incorrect perception of reality. Whenever we address individual cases, we broach the topic solely on the basis of international rule of law agreements and compliance with these standards. So it’s no interference in the internal affairs of another country when there is reason to believe, for example, that the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press are being violated.
We have to meet our international obligations, which the People’s Republic of China has also largely ratified. [Source]
A Xinhua report on a recent “‘candid’ and ‘in-depth’” Sino-German rights dialogue noted only Germany’s need for “a comprehensive and objective view of China’s human rights situation,” and its failings on “the refugee crisis, exclusivism thoughts, police excessive use of force and other issues.”
The harsh climate in recent years has failed to deter many, and has galvanized some. At TIME, Hannah Beech noted the qualification last month of Ren Jianyu, a former civil servant and re-education through labor inmate, as a lawyer.
The plight of China’s lawyers, journalists and other professionals hasn’t dissuaded Ren. His determination to become a lawyer was strengthened by the fate of one of China’s top human-rights lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang, who was once named lawyer of the year by a respected Chinese magazine. Pu had acted as Ren’s lawyer, and his intervention likely catalyzed Ren’s release from the labor camp. After his client was freed, Pu served as Ren’s witness at his wedding.
[…] In response to his lawyer’s detention, Ren stepped up his legal studies. “[I thought] if I could become I lawyer in the future, I could also defend people in court,” he says. “Whether my efforts are successful or not, at least I can solve problems within the scope of rule of law.”
But with little sign that this crackdown on dissent will ease, what can Ren and others accomplish? Even this newly minted lawyer is realistic. “Social progress depends on the rule of law,” Ren says. “I am kind of pessimistic about rule of law in China.” [Source]
Ren is among the signatories of an open letter to the court defending Pu’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. Such an appeal seems unlikely to sway it: official enthusiasm for the new Constitution Day holiday appeared muted this year compared with last, and the Party has long been clear about seeing that it does not view the law as constraining its own actions.
See also former Caijing journalist Xu Qianchuan’s account of his questioning by police regarding the dropped personal information charge against Pu, via CDT Chinese.