Pu Zhiqiang, a well-known rights lawyer and former China Media Project fellow, was detained by authorities in Beijing in early May after he participated in a private event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the June 4th Incident. Pu remains in custody and authorities announced last week that they would move ahead to prosecute Pu on charges of “creating a public disturbance” (even though the event was private) and “illegally obtaining the personal information of citizens.”
The following is our translation of a recent post by Shanghai lawyer and academic Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) that has been actively deleted from China’s internet and social media. In it, Zhang argues the reasons why Pu Zhiqiang is not guilty.
We have included the original Chinese post after the English.
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has not committed any crime — a preliminary analysis of the Pu Zhiqiang case
June 13, 2014
Pu Zhiqiang is one of the most noted human rights lawyers in China. Today, the Beijing police announced via its official Weibo that “with approval from the prosecution authorities, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau has arrested Pu Zhiqiang on June 13, 2014 on charges of picking quarrels and provoking troubles, and illegally obtaining citizens’ personal information.” Considering the facts of the case that are circulating on the Internet, (I) believe that the actions of Mr Pu do not constitute criminal offences. Below is an analysis of the two charges against him:
1. Illegally obtaining citizens’ personal information
It is said that the police charged Mr. Pu on the ground that he has requested information on business registration on behalf of some media organizations. If that is the case, Pu’s action does not constitute the crime of illegally obtaining citizens’ personal information under Article 253(a) of the Criminal Law.
First, shareholders of companies invest money and share the risk of the failure of the company. Under the limited liability system of shareholders, every company must disclose important information through the registration bodies of industry and commerce in order to protect the interest of potential business clients. The goal of company registration is to provide disclosure of information. This is the reason why Article 6, Clause 3 of the PRC Company Law clearly provides that “the public can request information on company registration at company registration authorities, (while) company registration authorities should provide such services.” Therefore, it is impossible to make it a crime for lawyers to seek information on any company on behalf of anybody.
Secondly, according to the provisions of Article 253 Section 1 Clause 2 (of the Criminal Law), illegally securing information refers to obtaining information by stealing or by methods in violation of the law. When a lawyer makes inquiries of a company’s registration information at the Administration for Industry and Commerce, they inquire according to the regulations and procedures stipulated by the Administration, or the lawyer will not be able to get the information. Under such circumstances, if the lawyer’s inquiry was illegal, the Administration would also have acted illegally by allowing the inquiry. It is therefore totally ridiculous for the Beijing police to consider a lawyer’s inquiry of business information an illegal act.
2. The crime of picking quarrels and provoking troubles
It is believed that police made these charges because Mr. Pu conducted a closed-door meeting at a friend’s home with Xu Youyu, Hao Jian, Hu Shigen, Liu Di, and others, to discuss an incident that happened 25 yeas ago. The police charge could possibly include two aspects. First, it is the action of attending the meeting. Second, it could be the act of distributing a group photograph on the Internet after the meeting. But both actions could not be construed as committing the crime of picking quarrels and provoking troubles.
First, Article 293 Clause 1 of the Criminal Law provides that “Whoever disrupts the social order by committing any of the following provocative and disturbing acts shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not more than 5 years, criminal detention or control: (1) Assaulting any other person at will, with execrable circumstances; (2) Chasing, intercepting, reviling or intimidating any other person, with execrable circumstances; (3) Taking or demanding forcibly or vandalizing or occupying at will public or private property, with serious circumstances; or (4) Making trouble in a public place, which causes a serious disorder of the public place. ”
Let us not discuss here the question if it is reasonable to legislate such a “pocket crime” (Translator’s note: “pocket crime” refers to the vague definition of the charges that anything can be stuffed into it.). The actions of the defendant in a private venue do not come under any clause of the above provision and should not be construed as committing the crime of picking quarrels and provoking troubles.
Second, “The Interpretation of Issues about Applicable Laws Dealing with Criminal Cases of Using Information Networks to Slander,” issued jointly by the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate provides that “the dissemination of false information on information networks, which one has either invented or clearly knows to be fabricated information, or the organizing or inciting of others to disseminate it on information networks, creating an uproar and causing serious public disorder, is to be convicted and punished as the crime of ‘provocation and causing disturbances’ in accordance with article 293(4) of the Criminal Law.”
It defies common sense as well as the principles of criminal law for the above Interpretation to define Internet space as public space for the purpose of criminal law. But let us set aside the question of whether the Interpretation makes sense. The fact is that the defendant has published a group photo of the gathering on the Internet, and did not fabricate or distribute false information. Hence, it is inappropriate to apply the provisions of the above Interpretation to him.
What happened 25 years ago is a true historical event. We now have a citizen of a country discussing historical facts that took place in his own country. This is a tragic and fearful situation, one that is often referred to as the state of “daoluyimu”, (Translator’s note: that friends would only acknowledge each other by eye contacts in public, since they are too afraid to talk to each other for fear of retaliation by oppressive authorities.)
The discussion above shows that Mr. Pu’s actions do not constitute crimes in a fundamental sense. ( I ) hope that the Beijing police authorities will withdraw immediately the erroneous charges against the defendant, and cease from oppressing the innocent and sparking public furor.
Zhang Xuezhong’s original Chinese-language post, which has now mostly disappeared from social media and blog sites in China, follows: