Trial of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang who is accused of "inciting ethnic hatred," ended after three hours without a verdict on Monday amid scuffles outside of courtroom in Beijing, China.
If convicted, the rigts lawyer Pu may face up to eight years in prison over his comments on social media platform Weibo criticising “excessively violent” crackdown of Chinese authorities on Uighurs in Xinjiang region. It’s also claimed that, he commented online on Chinese Communist Party as an “untruthful party” and mocked government’s rhetoric on disputed islands claimed both by Japan and China.
During the trial Pu, who spent almost 19 months in detention, told the court that he was willing to apologise if his “Weibo posts have ever harmed anyone.”
While the trial continues, a group of protesters, foreign diplomats and lawyers who wanted to observe the trial were pushed outside of the court by police officers surrounding the Beijing No.2 Intermediate People’s Court.
The United States Embassy’s Deputy Political Counsellor Dan Biers was also among the diplomats calling for release of Pu’s and others put on trial over corruption. The police were seen trying to prevent Biers to read his statement, Reuters reported.
John Kirby, State Department spokesperson of United States stated that the US was “dismayed with the physical harrasment of Chinese and international observers, including journalist and diplomatic personnel outside the court house.”
Chinese authorities later said that police acted “in accordance with the law” at the scene as they pushed back the protesters, diplomats and lawyers and invited the people in question to cooperate.
Pu’s wife has been allowed to attend the trial eventhough the time of verdict was not specified.
Mao Shoping, one of Pu’s lawyers told Reuters that Pu admitted the seven microblogs written by him and added “There was no issue with it, this is the fact.”
“...he had no intention to incite ethnic hatred or pick quarrels and provoke trouble" Mo said.
“Crackdown on lawyers”
In the past two years, the government has launched a nationwide crackdown and jailed hundreds of rights lawyers.
Rights lawyer Pu’s trial came one month after a report by Human Rights group Amnesty International documented increasing torture targeting lawyers in China.
Since July, approximately 200 attorneys or activists have been targeted, including 28 people who are still missing or in police custody, Amnesty stated.
The report said forced confessions as well as torture targeting lawyers and rights activists remains and have increased in China, even after the country made some advances in its legal system to protect the rights of detainees in 2010.
A China researcher for Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang said Pu’s trial was extremely important as he was “the ultimate canary in the coal mine.”
"If they decide to be harsh against him, I'd say it'll signify a further escalation of hostility towards human rights activism" she said.
50-year old Pu was detained in May within the government’s 2-year campaign on corruption, following a meeting he attended to commemorate pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.