China denies bail to prominent activist lawyer

BEIJING (AP)

One of China’s best-known rights lawyers has been denied bail in what his attorney and friends said Tuesday is a signal he will be indicted in a case they believe is aimed at deterring rising legal activism.

Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was one of several activists who were detained after attending a small, private meeting in Beijing to discuss the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on protesters ahead of its 25th anniversary – a taboo subject in China.

Because of his national profile, Pu became a symbol of the most expansive security sweep in recent years to prevent public commemorations of the deadly military crackdown on June 4, 1989. Since other participants in the Beijing meeting have now been released, Pu’s supporters have concluded he is being pursued for other reasons.

Pu has represented the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, campaigned for the abolition of labor camps and spoken up for Communist Party officials tortured in a secretive detention system. Unlike many dissidents, he has thus far enjoyed domestic media coverage and the ability to travel out of the country despite his outspokenness.

Beijing activist Hu Jia said authorities appeared set to make an example of Pu to stem the rise of activist lawyers who are often at odds with the Communist Party-controlled system of courts, prosecutors and police.

“He’s a representative of China’s rights lawyers. They want to send a strong signal by suppressing someone who is such a symbolic figure,” Hu said.

In recent years, rights lawyers have been at the forefront of the country’s hot-button social issues, campaigning for the victims of abuses that include illegal land seizures, food safety scandals, labor camps and gang rape. Many of the lawyers use social media to drum up public support for their causes, and directly challenge Chinese authorities on violations of due process, making some of them well-known among the politically conscious Chinese citizenry.

Pu’s lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, said his request for bail for Pu was denied Monday and he expects police will press criminal charges against his client. He declined to elaborate on the possible charges.

“I don’t think he will be released any time soon,” Zhang said. “A criminal charge is very likely, given the circumstances and the reasons of the detention.”

Beijing police did not respond to a faxed list of questions.

Chinese authorities in recent years have increasingly used criminal charges against dissidents that are unrelated to their activism – including tax evasion, technicalities regarding business licenses, and charges of disrupting public order.

Pu was detained on May 6, nearly a month before the politically sensitive anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Dozens of people were detained or placed under house arrest in the clampdown.

After the June 4 anniversary passed last week, police lifted their surveillance of many activists, including the mothers of victims of the 1989 military suppression, and released some dissidents. But many others remain in police custody, including Pu’s niece, Qu Zhenhong, who is also a lawyer, and an unknown number of activists and lawyers around the country.

China’s Communist Party-led government allows no discussions of the Tiananmen Square protests and their military suppression, and authorities tighten security ahead of the anniversary each year.

But this year’s suppression was harsher than in previous years, with police rounding up activists who in the past had received only warnings.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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