Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer handed suspended sentence

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly criticises the decision handed down by a Beijing court convicting a prominent human rights lawyer for online comments. The IFJ calls on the Beijing authorities to immediately repeal the conviction as it violates freedom of expression and free speech.

Earlier today, on December 22, Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights lawyer was found guilty of "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking troubles" through his online comments. The court sentenced Pu to three years in prison but said the sentence would be suspended. According to local reports, including Xinhua, during sentencing Pu had "acknowledged the reality of his crimes", apologised, and expressed acceptance of his sentence. According to his lawyer Mo Shaoping he will be able to leave immediately.

Pu Zhiqiang, 50, was charged his detainment in 6 May 2014.  According to his lawyer the prosecution charged Pu based on seven online posted messages out of his more than 20,000 posted messages on Sina Weibo between 2012 and 2014. Prosecution only based the allegations on seven of Pu’s messages, and only four were alleged to have been inciting racial hatred. The “incitement to racial hatred” charge was related to a knife attack at Kunming railway station in March 2014 in which 29 people were killed and more than 140 injured. The other message relates to Pu criticism of Shen Jilan, an elderly delegate of National People’s Congress. In the message, Pu said she has never voted “no” in her time as a delegate.

During Pu’s trial last week foreign journalists, activists and foreign embassy representatives were forced to leave the court, as only state-owned media were allowed access to the court room. Australian journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald Philip Wen was pushed by someone believed to be an agent from the security bureau as he was trying to report during the trial. A Hong Kong journalist was harassed by the local police, he  was made to go to the police station to “assist them to investigate a case” before the hearing. Four supporters were arrested during the trial. Prior to the sentencing, a small group of activists and foreign journalists gathered in front of the court. There were brief scuffles with the police in a repeat of scenes during Pu's one-day trial. According to BBC reports, police also confiscated press cards from journalists trying to cover the trial.

The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: “This sentence is aimed at intimidating and silencing critics and activists, it is another example of the Chinese authorities attempts to stifle freedom of expression. We immediately call on the Chinese authorities to dismiss the suspended sentence.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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