One of China‘s most celebrated human rights lawyers will face trial next week over comments he posted online which were critical of the ruling Communist Party, his attorney said on Thursday.

Pu Zhiqiang, who has represented labour camp victims and dissident artist Ai Weiwei, was detained a year and a half ago in a nationwide crackdown on dissent.

Pu Zhiqiang.
Pu Zhiqiang. Photo: Wikicommons.

He faces a maximum eight year jail sentence on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, his lawyer Mo Shaoping told AFP.

Beijing’s Number Two Intermediate People’s Court will consider the evidence — seven posts the lawyer made on a microblog — in a trial Monday, Mo added.

They include messages questioning a state media account of a deadly knife attack blamed on assailants from the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, and another accusing Communist Party officials of “lying”.

Pu, 50, is the latest person to be tried in a crackdown on critics of the Communist Party overseen by President Xi Jinping, which has seen hundreds detained and dozens sent to prison.

He is virtually certain to be convicted in the Communist-controlled court.

Baritone-voiced Pu was once celebrated in China‘s state-run media for seeking compensation for people sent to “re-education through labour” camps. The government said in 2013 it would abolish the system.

Beijing prosecutors said in April that Pu “insulted others, disrupted public order and shall be held criminally responsible”.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International as well have called for his release, as has Washington.

The lawyer has been subjected to harsh treatment while in detention, according to a his wife.

“He was interrogated for almost 10 hours every day during the first three months in the detention centre… (and) he was subjected to inhumane torture both physically and mentally,” Meng Qun said in a public letter last year.

Police detained Pu after he attended a private seminar marking the 25th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.