Publish on The New York Times. By Jane Perlez
One of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers was given a suspended prison sentence on Tuesday after being convicted of two charges in connection with his provocative online criticism of the government.
The sentence — three years in prison, with a three-year reprieve — meant that the lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, 50, would go free, and that he would not serve more time behind bars unless he committed another offense, said Mo Shaoping, one of Mr. Pu’s lawyers. But Mr. Mo said the conviction also meant that Mr. Pu’s career as a lawyer was over.
“According to Chinese law, whoever is given a criminal punishment, except for crimes that are unintentional, will never be allowed to practice law again,” Mr. Mo said in an interview after the ruling.
Mr. Pu was released from a Beijing detention center on Tuesday afternoon and driven with his wife, Meng Qun, to a house assigned to him by the police, Mr. Mo said. He was to remain under surveillance there for 10 days, after which he was expected to be free to go home, the lawyer said.
Mr. Pu, who was arrested in May 2014, was tried on Dec. 14 before a three-judge panel of the Second Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in connection with a series of comments he made on the Internet.
The Obama administration has protested the arrest of Mr. Pu, and before the trial began last week, a senior official of the American Embassy read a statement outside the courthouse calling for Mr. Pu’s release and expressing concern that he was being tried “under vague charges.”
But China’s party-run legal system rarely reverses course once a figure deemed to be politically hostile has been arrested. Senior party officials, not judges, are believed to decide the sentences in such cases.
Mr. Pu is the most prominent rights lawyer to be arrested during a far-reaching crackdown on dissent under the leadership of PresidentXi Jinping. That campaign has centered on lawyers, rights advocates and journalists, and the authorities have detained several hundred of them. A number have been tried in courts and imprisoned.
Amnesty International criticized the court’s ruling on Tuesday, noting that it would halt Mr. Pu’s work as a lawyer.
“Clearly it is positive that Pu Zhiqiang is unlikely to spend another night in jail, yet that cannot hide the gross injustice against him,” William Nee, a China researcher for the rights group, said in a statement. “He is no criminal and this guilty verdict effectively shackles one of China’s bravest champions of human rights from practicing law.”
Mr. Pu was not allowed to speak during the hearing Tuesday, Mr. Mo said. “They closed the trial right after reading the verdict,” he said.
In finding Mr. Pu guilty on speech-related charges, the court focused on the very issue — freedom of expression — that the lawyer had defended as a basic right for many of his clients.
Read the full article here