Scuffles at trial of China rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang

Diplomats also jostled as they try to gain entry to the three-hour trial in Beijing

Police push away journalists and supporters of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang near the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court  on Monday. Photograph: Fred DufourAFP/Getty Images

Police push away journalists and supporters of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang near the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court on Monday. Photograph: Fred DufourAFP/Getty Images

 

There were scuffles, and diplomats and journalists were shoved, after the three-hour trial of Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most high-profile human rights lawyers, on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Nearly a dozen diplomats from countries including the US, Germany and France, gathered at Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court seeking to observe the trial, but were refused admittance by police, some uniformed and some plainclothes state security officials wearing smiley badges.

Mr Pu, who has represented many dissidents and activists, including the artist Ai Weiwei, and who took part in the pro-democracy protests in 1989 that ended with the bloody crackdown centred on Tiananmen Square, has already been detained for 19 months. He faces eight years in jail.

The charges are mostly based on seven social media posts, in total about 600 characters, in which he criticises the government and satirises two cadres. At a pre-trial meeting last week, some of the evidence previously held against him was dismissed, his lawyers said.

Video posted on Twitter showed deputy political counsellor of the US embassy Dan Biers being shoved by police as he read out a statement saying: “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. ”

The last part of the statement could not be heard as the police pushed Mr Biers and a number of journalists.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement condemning the harassment of and violence against both overseas media and their local staff.

Slammed to the ground

“This effort to deter news coverage is a gross violation of Chinese government rules governing foreign correspondents, which expressly permit them to interview anybody who consents to be interviewed. Legal coverage is a normal part of journalistic work and is expected grow as China pushes to develop its rule of law,” the group said in the statement.

During the foreign ministry’s daily news briefing, spokesman Hong Lei said “law enforcement authorities carried out order management at the scene in accordance with the law” and said “the relevant people should co-operate”.

The charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, is regularly used to silence critics of the government. The Chinese government rejects western criticism of its human rights record, saying it is a country with rule of law and that it opposes foreign interference in its domestic affairs. The Communist Party argues that bringing the country out of poverty is a basic human right.

According to UN figures, 200 lawyers have been rounded up in a nationwide crackdown since July, and at least 25 of them remain in detention, including prominent lawyer-activists Wang Yu, Li Heping and Zhang Kai.

Mr Pu’s trial lasted a little over three hours, Mo Shaoping, another one of his lawyers, told Reuters.

“He admitted the seven microblogs were written by him, there was no issue with it, this is a fact,” Mr Mo said, recounting what Mr Pu said in court.

“Secondly, he said that if these microblog posts had caused injury to other people, he apologises for it. Thirdly, he had no intention to incite ethnic hatred or pick quarrels and provoke trouble.”

Life in prison

Bo Xilai

Ms Gu was convicted of murdering a family business associate, Neil Heywood, by poisoning him in a Chongqing hotel room in late 2011. Heywood’s death prompted one of biggest political scandals in China in recent years. – (Additional reporting by Reuters)