Authorities in China’s capital Beijing have again extended the detention of top rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, this time by three months, his attorney confirmed Thursday, adding that Pu has been suffering from health problems during his incarceration.
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.
Defense attorney Mo Shaoping told RFA that, by law, Pu’s case should have gone to trial within three months of being officially charged.
“However, with the approval of a higher court, it can be postponed for three more months if the court believes the case is a complicated one,” he said.
“This is what the Beijing Second Court did, and it was approved by the higher court.”
Mo said the extension was technically within the bounds of law, but said the basis for the move was questionable.
“I can’t say it’s against the law, but whether this is a complicated case or not is a different story and it depends whom you ask,” he said.
Pu’s 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, and his lawyers have hit out at repeated delays and extensions to his stay in Beijing's police-run No. 3 Detention Center.
The latest extension comes amid an ongoing crackdown on the legal profession by Chinese authorities and ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the U.S. in September. Washington has repeatedly expressed concerns over Pu’s detention and called for his release.
Mo told RFA he had met with Pu on Aug. 17 and that the rights lawyer told him he had recently been experiencing health issues.
“Pu told me he experienced shortness of breath, but he wasn’t sure if the symptoms were heart disease-related or due to the hot weather,” he said.
“He took medication provided by the detention center and also received an injection for his diabetes.”
Earlier this month, Mo told RFA that the state prosecutor's case against Pu turns on "a few tweets" on China's Twitter-like "weibo" services, but that the defense had not received a clear answer on which were used to support the charges against him.
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 269 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).
Reported by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.