By Chris Buckley. Published on The New York Times
BEIJING — One of China’s feistiest and most prominent civil rights lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang, will stand trial on Monday over charges related to his combative online comments, his lawyers said on Thursday, after months of uncertainty about when the contentious case would be heard in court.
Mr. Pu was arrested in May 2014 and indicted a year later on suspicion of two crimes: inciting ethnic hatred and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague charge that the government has increasingly used against political dissenters.
Until now, though, the judiciary in Beijing had delayed setting a trial date.
“The charges remain the same as they were in the indictment,” said Mo Shaoping, one of Mr. Pu’s two defense lawyers. “As for what will be said in court, that will have to wait for the hearing.”
Mr. Pu’s other defense lawyer, Shang Baojun, confirmed the trial date at the Second Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing but declined to say more.
There is virtually no doubt that the court will find Mr. Pu guilty. Chinese courts come under Communist Party control and almost invariably convict defendants, especially in politically sensitive cases.
But Zhang Xuezhong, a human rights lawyer in Shanghai, said Mr. Pu might be spared the heaviest sentence that the charges would allow.
“The trial has been delayed and delayed for so long that they may want to deal with this swiftly now, so there’s a verdict around Christmastime, when fewer Western media and diplomats are around,” Mr. Zhang, who is a friend of Mr. Pu, said in a telephone interview.
“The maximum sentence for the two charges together would usually be about eight years,” Mr. Zhang said. “But Pu Zhiqiang is influential in the Beijing legal world, he has many friends, and that might help him. I’m not a fortune teller, but there is the possibility of a lighter verdict.”
As a lawyer, Mr. Pu defended clients like the artist-provocateur Ai Weiwei and railed against the vagaries of China’s legal system, such as imprecise charges, detention with no real means of challenging it, and suspects’ lack of access to lawyers.
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