News and Views on Tibet

Prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang stands trial amid scuffle

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By Tenzin Dharpo

DHARAMSHALA, Dec. 16: Prominent Chinese civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang yesterday (Dec. 15) stood trial at the Beijing Number 2 Intermediate People’s Court on charges of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ and ‘creating disturbances’ as mass gathering of people including global media, diplomats and common Chinese people gathered outside the court condemning the government’s shoddy display of willful persecution of dissidents.

The civil rights lawyer was arrested in May last year after he attended a gathering attended by other lawyers and activists for the 1989 Tiananmen square massacre. He was later charged for putting up seven posts in the Chinese social media site Weibo which the government deemed as ‘creating public disturbance and inciting ethnic unrest. ‘

“Nothing Pu Zhiqiang has written has violated any law, but the authorities’ treatment of him certainly has, a guilty verdict will be an indictment of the Chinese government, its law, and its legal system – not of Pu.” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

Pu’s criticism of ethnic policies especially in Tibet and Xinjiang have been used by the government in what they called “provoked ethnic relations…and damaged ethnic unity.” His advocacy in the abolition of the ‘Re-education through Labor’ practice by representing many detainees in high profile cases has been defined as ‘rudimentary contribution’ to the state’s abolition of the primate form of punishment through intense labor’ at least on paper. The form of punishment, however, still continues in practice all over China and Tibet.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in their special report: Gulags of Tibet in 2013 expounds that the practice still continues in Tibet either under a different name or separate context. It reads,” In late December 2013, China announced the abolition of RTL, a form of arbitrary detention used by the Chinese government for over 50 years to imprison political dissidents and other opponents. Since the Third Plenum various organizations have alleged that the reform will be cosmetic—simply renaming RTL facilities and expanding other forms of arbitrary detention—rather than substantive.”
Dan Biers, deputy political counselor of the U.S. embassy in Beijing who was prevented by plain clothes Chinese cops while reading a statement rebuked the “vague charges”. He was joined by 11 diplomats from countries including the United States, Germany and France who gathered in front of the court but denied permission to enter.

Many have said that the case highlights the faulty justice system and the employment of government led spectacles of crass enactments of public office. “Even by China’s standards, the spectacle both inside and outside the court surrounding the trial of Pu Zhiqiang … was a mockery of justice and rule of law,” Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said.

The trial lasted only three hours yesterday where Pu admitted to writing those posts and apologized to anyone offended by them while saying he had no intention of inciting ethnic hatred as told to Reuters by one of his lawyers, Mo Shaoping.

The case and the paraphernalia surrounding the case attest for not only the hollow judicial system of China but also the communist government’s clampdown on civil society machineries and broader premises of freedom of speech, free press and democracy.

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