Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 1 News List

PRC detains lawyer ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

ROUNDED UP:At least five dissidents and professors have disappeared since attending a meeting that urged a probe into the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests

Reuters, BEIJING

China yesterday detained a prominent human rights lawyer on a charge of “causing a disturbance,” two lawyers said, after he attended a weekend meeting that urged a probe of the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強), a leading free-speech lawyer, has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) and activists of the “New Citizens’ Movement,” a group that has urged Chinese leaders to disclose their assets.

He is also well known for opposing China’s system of forced labor camps, which the government has abolished, and featured prominently in state media for that campaign — unusual for a government critic.

The move to formally detain Pu underscores the sensitivity of Chinese leaders to any form of criticism ahead of the 25th anniversary of China’s crackdown on the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

“Pu is very influential and has a following in the mainstream audience,” said Maya Wang, a China researcher for New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “The detention, as in previous years’ house arrest, is meant to, first, put him out of action during this period, but more importantly, it might be a message to deter any others from commemorating the massacre during this important anniversary.”

At least five dissidents and professors have disappeared since attending the meeting, held to commemorate the 1989 crackdown, as well as “explore its implications and consequences, and call for an investigation into the truth of June 4,” said Hua Ze (華澤), a rights activist.

In Pu’s detention notice, Beijing police said they had “criminally detained” him on a charge of “causing a disturbance” and were holding him at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

Pu’s colleague, Xia Lin (夏霖), and a human rights lawyer, Zhang Sizhi (張思之), confirmed the detention, citing a member of Pu’s family.

Security officers had searched Pu’s office and home before his disappearance, another rights lawyer, Zhang Qingfang (張慶方), said.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said she was “not familiar with the situation” when asked about Pu’s detention at a daily news briefing.

The detention was discussed on microblogs, drawing condemnation from hundreds of supporters.

“This is another heavy slap to anyone who harbors any illusions of the so-called ‘new Xi-Li governance,’” one microblogger wrote.

“As long as you express dissatisfaction with the government’s actions, it can be packaged as ‘causing a disturbance,’” another wrote. “This type of criminal charge fundamentally reflects the interests of the ruling class and doesn’t reflect the will of the people.”

The charge of causing a disturbance appears to be “a catch-all charge that has increasingly been used to suppress dissent and crackdown on activism during ‘sensitive’ events,” said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International.

Pu, who participated in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, had vowed to return to Tiananmen Square every anniversary.

“The government’s pressures to forget June 4 have caused the day slowly to erode in public memory: each year the Tiananmen mothers seem more isolated and the massacre seems more a topic to be avoided in daily conversation,” Pu said. “Our Tiananmen generation is now in middle age; we are in positions where we can make a difference. Do we not want to?”

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