Peking University law professor He Weifang has spoken out against a Beijing court’s decision to sentence prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang to a three-year suspended jailed term over social media posts.
In an op-ed titled “Where is the legal sector’s conscience and courage?” the Chinese legal heavyweight argues that the charges against Pu – inciting ethnic hatred and “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” – are baseless.
Pu, 50, was sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year suspension on Tuesday over seven posts he made on microblogging platform Weibo between 2012 and 2014.
In one of them, the lawyer criticised former leader Mao Zedong‘s grandson Mao Xinyu, who is a member of the national political consultative body the CPPCC.
Professor He said Pu’s comments, although harsh, were merely “normal criticism” of a public figure. If Mao felt like his reputation was harmed, he could sue Pu for defamation, He said. Pu’s comments had nothing to do with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” he added.
The professor compared Pu’s trial with cases of “miscarriage of justice” during the Cultural Revolution. He said he had been “overly confident” that free speech trials would not happen again after the 1966-1976 mass movement was redressed.
Meanwhile, artist Ai Weiwei has penned an op-ed for The New York Times to support Pu, who was his defence lawyer when he was charged with tax evasion. Ai said authorities used the same tactic against Pu as they did with him and attempted to charge the lawyer with economic crimes.
Pu was detained for a year and a half before his trial while prosectors went through his law firm’s financial records, hoping to establish a case for economic crimes, Ai said.
After failing to do so, they then turned to Pu’s online speech. Professor He also echoed this point in his commentary. The fact that authorities could not charge him for anything else but a few words showed Pu was an outstanding legal worker, He wrote.
However, state media insisted the sentence was just. Xinhua published an op-ed on Wednesday calling Pu a “criminal.” The op-ed blasts Pu’s supporters for having their own agenda.