Confusion Surrounds Criminal Charges Against Pu Zhiqiang

By Liu Di
2015.06.24
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china-tiananmen-seminar-may-2014.jpg Pu Zhiqiang (front right) attends a seminar about the Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing, May 3, 2014.
Photo courtesy of CHRD

I have known Pu Zhiqiang for more than 10 years, which have passed by in a flash, although I didn't have chance to see him very much during those years. I spoke to him most recently before the May 3 discussion forum [on the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement]. I think we talked about [rights lawyer] Gao Zhisheng.

After I, Pu, Xu Youyu and two others were detained at the May 3 discussion forum, I was asked during the pre-trial hearing about all my dealings with Pu Zhiqiang, and this is what I replied.

Pu said a few things on the day of the May 3 seminar, just about his experiences [back in 1989], and some stories of heroism, but it seems nobody remembers them.

I see my memory of what Pu Zhiqiang said that day as the bananas and the oranges I took home on the quiet from a large plate of fruit that he invited everyone to eat from. I'm a mouse, after all. That's what I told the pre-trial hearing.

The pre-trial hearing didn't bring up the topic of Pu Zhiqiang again ... and when I got out, I heard that he was the only person they hadn't released, and that his niece had also been detained. I was very surprised by this.

Later, a fellow defendant told me that [those conducting] their pre-trial hearing had repeatedly asked them about Pu ... I felt that I was nothing but a hanger-on, and that the police were filled with a desire for revenge against Pu Zhiqiang because he was “unpatriotic.”

The charges against Pu have taken many twists and turns, and been the subject of a lot of rumors. Finally, there were just two: "incitement to ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

These two charges have nothing to do with the May 3 seminar, which I guess means I am no longer his accomplice.

However, I too was held on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and so I would like to talk about this "trouble."

Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the People's Republic of China states that there are four types of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble":

1. Beating up other people, causing serious harm.

2. Chasing, intercepting, abusing or threatening others, with serious consequences.

3. Deliberately and forcibly causing damage to or occupying public or private property, causing serious disturbance to public order.

4. Creating a disturbance in a public place, with the effect of causing serious chaos in a public place.

According to an interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate on Sept. 10, 2013, regarding criminal cases of libel using information networks:

"Anyone using information networks to abuse and threaten others, with serious consequences, disrupting public order, will be designated as picking quarrels and stirring up trouble under Article 293 of the Criminal Code, clause 2.

Anyone fabricating false information, disseminating it online or organizing or causing or organizing others to disseminate it online, causing serious harm to public order, will be tried and convicted of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" under Article 293 of the Criminal Code, fourth clause.

A few questions

I am not a lawyer. I am a layperson when it comes to the law. But I'd like to put out a few questions regarding the law and the judicial interpretation regarding "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

I hope you don't find them too funny.

First, I heard that the reason that Pu Zhiqiang was charged with "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" was that he had been abusive to [deceased revolutionary model soldier] Lei Feng.

I would like to ask if the victims of the abuse detailed in the Criminal Code can include dead people? If verbally abusing dead people amounts to "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," then surely the Beijing opera "Beating the Drum to Curse Cao Cao" must be guilty of it? I look forward to the legal interpretation of this point from the Supreme People's Court and Procuratorate.

It is also said that this charge against Pu Zhiqiang was linked to his verbally abusing National People's Congress (NPC) deputy Shen Jilan.

According to an interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate on July 22, 2013:

"Perpetrators who engage in thrill-seeking behavior, emotional venting and acting tough, picking fights for no reason will be regarding as picking quarrels and stirring up trouble under Article 293 of the Criminal Code.

The so-called verbal abuse Pu Zhiqiang is supposed to have heaped on NPC delegate Shen Jilan was in fact the criticism and supervision of an NPC delegate in the carrying out of their duties, in accordance with the right of the citizen to oversee a public servant.

Even where his language gets more excitable, nowhere does it amount to "thrill-seeking behavior, emotional venting and acting tough, picking fights for no reason."

A lot of petitioners are getting placed under criminal detention now for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," but we all know that when a petitioner becomes heated, it's because their health or their interests have been harmed, and they want the government to do something about it. It's not because they are engaging in thrill-seeking behavior, emotional venting and acting tough or picking fights for no reason. I look forward to the interpretation of the Supreme Court and Procuratorate on this matter, too.

According to an interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate:

"Anyone fabricating false information, disseminating it online or organizing or causing or organizing others to disseminate it online, causing serious harm to public order, will be tried and convicted of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" under Article 293 of the Criminal Code, fourth clause."

I do not know whether "public order" here refers to public order in the real world, or online.

If it's the former, then Pu Zhiqiang has done nothing to harm public order, regardless of whom he abused online, nor has he caused any disruption of public order of a serious nature.

If it's the latter, then what exactly does "public order," on the Internet mean, and what does seriously disrupting it entail? I welcome an explanation of this point from the Supreme Court and Procuratorate.

To sum up, we can see from the Pu Zhiqiang case that for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" to apply, there must be serious disruption involved, and that the interpretation of the Supreme People's Court and Procuratorate has only exacerbated the confusion.

We hope that the legal profession will pay attention to this issue and propose a solution.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Beijing-based writer Liu Di, known by her former online nickname "Stainless Steel Mouse," rose to fame in 2002 after being sentenced to a year in jail for blogging about China's Internet restrictions as a university student. She has continued to write online about Chinese society, and was among a large group of people detained at a seminar marking the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 2014.

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