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On June 13, 2014, the Chinese authorities announced the formal arrest of prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who had been detained in early May after attending a private meeting where he and several others discussed the military crackdown 25 years earlier of student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau made the announcement on its Weibo microblog account, saying that Pu was formally arrested for  “creating a public disturbance” and “illegally obtaining the personal information of citizens”. The announcement also stated that Pu was continuing to be investigated for other crimes.

Two days prior to the arrest, Zhang Sizhi, one of Pu’s lawyers, expressed grave concerns about Pu’s fate, after unexpectedly being allowed to visit Pu at a Beijing detention center on June 9.   In a Weibo post, Zhang said he feared Pu faces a long jail sentence (“a maximum of two or three years is but a fantasy”).

Zhang also wrote that while Pu remains “very resolute,” he is visibly shaken, and that up to ten hours of interrogation daily has taken a toll on his health.  Zhang had earlier sought Pu’s release on medical parole because of his deteriorating health and his need for medical attention due to his diabetes, but the application was denied.

The offences, particularly of “creating a public disturbance,” are a likely repercussion from the Chinese authorities over Pu’s attendance at the private meeting on May 3 and the online posting of a photograph of the participants.

Police escorted Pu from his home in the early hours of May 5.  (Four others who attended the private meeting — online dissident Liu Di, film critic Hao Jian, dissident writer Hu Shigen, and noted Chinese scholar Xu Youyu – were also detained at the same time as Pu but have since been released on bail.)

It was only three days later, on May 8, that Pu was allowed to meet with his legal representatives, Zhang and Qu Zhenhong.  But Qu, who is also Pu’s niece, was shortly thereafter criminally detained herself over allegations of “illegally obtaining personal information” in Beijing on May 16.

A May 8 opinion published in the Global Times, the state-controlled newspaper, may provide some insight on the motive behind Pu’s detention and arrest.

In the article, ‘Legal activists must also respect rule of law’, the Global Times wrote that activist lawyers like Pu have “wild intentions to challenge and change the law, [deviating] from their own job scope” and are becoming “more like social activists rather than legal practitioners.”

Even if “civil rights lawyers like Pu get massive public support when their actions are taken for the public good,” the Global Times wrote, “they shouldn’t take it for granted that they can avoid legal punishment when they themselves break the law.”