Chinese authorities has charged one of the country's most outspoken human rights lawyers with inciting ethnic hatred, as well as "picking quarrels and provoking troubles," another example of a crackdown on political dissidents, activists and journalists.
Pu Zhiqiang has been in police custody for more than a year and he could face life in jail, his lawyer said. The charges could also end his career as lawyers in China are disbarred if they are convicted of a criminal offense.
He is accused of "harming social order." According to Reuters, especially his messages on treatment of minorities had prompted the charges. Pu denied all accusations, including inciting ethnic hatred and separatism. His supporters say the charges are politically motivated.
The United States, which called on China to release Pu before, has repeated the call again.
"His indictment appears to be part of a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions of public interest lawyers, Internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who challenge official Chinese policies and actions," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said. China has slammed these calls saying US should look at its own backyard before it criticises others.
As a prominent human rights lawyer, Pu represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei and has been a part of campaigns for political and legal reform since he took part in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
He also campaigned against forced labour camps, which the government has abolished.
Since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, nearly 2,000 human rights and other political activists have been detained, according to China Human Rights Defenders.
Uighur academic Ilham Tohti jailed him for life on September 2014 on charges of separatism for defending Muslim Uighurs' rights, a case that is seen as a cudgel to silence him.