Beijing Extends Detention of Top Rights Lawyer Amid Ongoing Crackdown

china-puzhiqiang-07212015.jpg Rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been held on questionable charges since May 2014, in an undated file photo.

Authorities in the Chinese capital have once more extended the criminal detention of a top rights lawyer, his attorney said, amid an ongoing crackdown on the country's legal profession.

Pu Zhiqiang, 50, was indicted on May 15 for "incitement to racial hatred" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after being held in criminal detention for more than a year.

While the move should mean his case now moves to trial, his lawyers have hit out at repeated delays and extensions to his stay in Beijing's police-run No. 3 Detention Center.

His detention on May 6, 2014 came ahead of an event marking the anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement.

"Normally this would mean his detention has been extended to Aug. 18, but they are likely to extend it still futher," Pu's defense attorney Mo Shaoping told RFA on Tuesday.

He said the state prosecutor's case against Pu turns on "a few tweets" on China's Twitter-like "weibo" services.

"[We are trying to find out] exactly which tweets are supposed to support the charge of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble, and which are supposed to support the incitement to ethnic hatred charge,"
Mo said.

"In all this time, we haven't received a clear answer."

LInked to online posts

Media reports suggest that the “inciting ethnic hatred” is linked to comments posted by Pu on the knife attack at a Kunming railway station in March 2014 on several Sina Weibo accounts.

In support of the "picking quarrels" charge, Pu is said to have “vented his emotions” online to insult Shen Jilan, an elderly legislator who claims never to have voted “no” in parliamentary sessions.

Also said to have been targeted by Pu was Tian Zhenhui, a spokeswoman at a state railway design company blamed for providing a flawed signaling system that caused a high-speed train crash in Zhejiang province, in July 2011.

Before his arrest, Pu was a highly respected and outspoken figure among China's embattled rights attorneys, known for representing high-profile dissidents like artist Ai Weiwei and for his public opposition to the now-abolished "re-education through labor" camps.

In recent weeks, police have detained or interrogated at least 265 lawyers, law firm staff, and associated human right activists.

More than 20 people remain in detention, many of them at undisclosed locations, or have been placed under surveillance or house arrest, according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG).

Libel suit planned

The wife of Li Heping, one of the lawyers detained in the crackdown in Beijing, said she is planning to sue several of China's state-run media organizations for libel after they "violated his rights."

Wang Qiaoling filed a complaint at the Haidian District People's Court in Beijing after her husband had been gone for 25 days with no official notification of his whereabouts.

Chinese Communist Party newspaper The People's Daily, state-run news agency Xinhua, the Procuratorate Daily, online media portals Sina and Sohu are among nine news media named in the complaint.

According to a copy of the lawsuit seen by RFA, the media organizations had "broken professional journalistic codes of ethics," abandoning notions of independence, objective reporting, and rigor.

They had also libeled Li Heping, with serious consequences, it said, demanding the removal of the articles concerned and a public apology.

Wang confirmed the lawsuit but declined to comment, indicating that she is herself under heavy police surveillance.

"It's not convenient for me to give you an interview right now," she said, adding: "The main details are all written in my lawsuit."

Held incommunicado

The move comes after Li's brother Li Chunfu, who had tried to act as his legal representative, was taken away from his home by Beijing police on Saturday night.

Calls to Li Chunfu's cell phone resulted in a "switched off" message on Tuesday.

Li Heping's defense lawyer Ma Lianshun, said Li Chunfu has been incommunicado since being taken away by police.

"Li Chunfu would mostly work civil cases, and had never been very interested in human rights cases," Ma said.

"After they detained his brother, he went to enquire after him, and to try to find him, but he was nowhere to be found," Ma said. "Surely it's OK for him to try to find his brother."

"They way they are detaining people, any of us could be detained at any time," he said.

Blocked from travel

Meanwhile, Zhang Qingfang, a former attorney for New Citizen's Movement founder Xu Zhiyong said he had been prevented from boarding a flight to the United States along with his daughter in recent days.

"It's very simple," Zhang told RFA. "It's because I defended Xu Zhiyong, and because I have helped out his family a bit since he went into jail."

"I am considering [whether to lodge a complaint]," Zhang said. "There are lawyers who are willing to represent me."

Since the crackdown began with a raid on Beijing's Fengrui law firm on July 10, a number of family members of Chinese lawyers have been harassed, placed under surveillance or denied permission to leave the country in recent weeks, on the pretext that their doing so would harm national security.

"The wife of [lawyer] Yu Wensheng was harassed, and now we have this new development of the children of lawyers having their freedom restricted," rights lawyer Cheng Hai told RFA.

"We could put some pressure on the authorities to divulge the reasoning behind the threat to national security, though lawsuits or freedom of information requests," Cheng said.

"It's basically just a tactic to put pressure on lawyers, and to divert their time and energy away from rights cases."

Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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