Scuffles as celebrated lawyer goes on trial in China

2015-12-14 09:50
Police officers push away foreign journalists covering rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang's trial at the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court in Beijing. (Andy Wong, AP)

Police officers push away foreign journalists covering rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang's trial at the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court in Beijing. (Andy Wong, AP)

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One of China's most celebrated human rights lawyers went on trial over online comments critical of the ruling Communist Party, as police scuffled with supporters and journalists outside the courthouse.

Pu Zhiqiang, who has represented labour camp victims and dissident artist Ai Weiwei, was detained a year-and-a-half ago in a nationwide crackdown on dissent.

He faces a maximum of eight years in jail on charges of "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", according to his lawyer Mo Shaoping.

Beijing's Number Two Intermediate People's Court will consider the evidence - seven posts the lawyer made on Weibo between 2011 and 2014 - on Monday, Mo told the AFP news agency.

Weibo is a hugely popular Twitter-like social media platform in China. 

Police crackdown

Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown, reporting from outside the courthouse in Beijing, said that several people were dragged away from the scene when police clashed with Pu's supporters and journalists.

"The trial of Pu is extremely sensitive. There were extraordinary glimpses of defiance by a small group of supporters. They, like the media, were bundled away by plain-clothed police, some wearing smiley badges," Brown said.

"A short distance away a group of Pu supporters furtively unfurled two banners for our cameras. One said 'Pu Zhiqiang is not guilty.' Another read 'Free Pu Zhiqiang.'

"One elderly woman told me that some of her friends were taken away by police. 'There are no human rights in China,' she said."

Officers and unidentified plain-clothes policemen shouted at senior US diplomat Dan Biers and pushed him as he tried to read a statement condemning the trial.

The posts at the centre of the case include messages questioning a state media account of a deadly knife attack blamed on people from the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, and another message accusing Communist Party officials of "lying".

"Lawyers and civil society leaders such as Mr Pu should not be subject to continuing repression but should be allowed to contribute to the building of a prosperous and stable China," Biers said.

"We urge Chinese authorities to release Mr Pu and call upon China to uphold fundamental civil rights."

Diplomats shoved

A diplomat speaking on behalf of the European Union was also shouted down as she delivered a statement outside the court criticising the process.

"China has too few good lawyers - he was one of the few," Yao Lianshe, a citizen who says he goes to as many trials as he can despite frequent police harassment, told AFP.

"Nothing in China will ever change for the better unless the people are unafraid to stand up to authority and bear witness."

Pu, aged 50, is the latest person to be tried in a crackdown on critics of the Communist Party, which has seen hundreds detained and dozens sent to prison.

Analysts say he is virtually certain to be convicted in the party-controlled court. A verdict is expected later on Monday.

Read more on:    china

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