One of China’s most prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year reprieve on Tuesday for social media posts critical of the Chinese government.

Pu Zhiqiang.
Pu Zhiqiang. Photo: Wikicommons.

The 50-year-old was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” by the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court, state broadcaster CCTV reported. The convictions were based on seven messages on the Twitter-like Weibo between 2012 and 2014 , in which the lawyer criticised the government’s treatment of ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans.

Pu, who took part in the 1989 pro-democracy student protests on Tiananmen Square, is known for his defence of dissident artist Ai Weiwei and his attack on the notorious re-education camps.

The trial has been condemned internationally as suppression of freedom of expression.

State-run news agencyXinhua said Pu received a lenient sentence because he “actively admitted guilt and showed remorse”, which contradicts earlier media reports that he pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

International human rights NGO Amnesty International has blasted the verdict as a “gross injustice.”

“Clearly it is positive that Pu Zhiqiang is unlikely to spend another night in jail, yet that cannot hide the gross injustice against him. He is no criminal and this guilty verdict effectively shackles one of China’s bravest champions of human rights from practicing law,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Pu Zhiqiang has already been detained for more than 18 months, and despite investigating Pu for so long, the only ‘evidence’ the authorities could muster against him were seven social media posts in which he criticized the government. He is one of China’s most courageous defenders of the right to freedom of expression, and he’s been persecuted for simply exercising that right.”

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.