Lawyer spared jail over online comments slating ruling party

After months behind bars, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers left a detention centre yesterday after receiving a suspended prison sentence in a case involving online comments critical of the ruling Communist Party.

A man pushes a videojournalist, left, near the court where human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was sentenced in Beijing. Picture: AP

The court convicted Pu Zhiqiang on charges of disturbing public order and inciting ethnic hatred, and sentenced him to three years in prison but said the sentence will be suspended for three years.

Six hours after the hearing, Pu was driven out of Beijing No. 1 Detention Centre in the company of his wife and police officers.

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From the car, Pu said he was “safe and sound”.

His wife, Meng Qun, wrote: “He’s well and still under residential surveillance. His health needs to recover, he needs some calm and adjusting time.”

Lawyer Shang Baojun said the verdict would not take effect for ten days, during which Pu can appeal, and he can be kept in detention or under residential surveillance, which may be at a place which is not his home.

The guilty verdict disqualifies Pu from practicing law, and he must comply with certain restrictions and not commit crimes during the three-year period or risk being jailed.

Since coming to power in 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping has spearheaded crackdowns on civil activists, rights lawyers and online freedom of expression, in moves aimed at snuffing out any potential threats to the Communist Party’s grip on power.

Pu was detained shortly after attending a May 2014 meeting to discuss commemorating 25 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters were killed in the crackdown, and the topic remains taboo in China.

Pu stood trial on 14 December – after more than 19 months in detention – for several online comments that questioned Beijing’s ethnic policies and poked fun at some political figures.