Police in China on Friday arrested one of the country’s most celebrated human rights lawyers, as leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) renew their push to punish government critics.
Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強), a prominent rights campaigner who has represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), was arrested on suspicion of “creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information,” according to a posting by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on its verified microblog.
The police added that a further investigation into Pu’s “other alleged crimes” was under way.
Pu’s lawyer, Si Weijiang (斯偉江), maintained that political reasons were behind the arrest.
“He’s innocent. He hasn’t committed these crimes,” Si said by telephone on Friday night.
He said that authorities had likely been incensed by critical statements Pu had made on his Sina Weibo microblogging account, which has repeatedly been shut down by the government.
Chinese authorities routinely round up outspoken critics of the CCP in the weeks before key events and Pu was among several people detained last month after attending a private seminar commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
More than 40 journalists, lawyers, academics and activists were held under various forms of detention ahead of the June 4th anniversary, Amnesty International said, in a larger clampdown than in previous years.
Meanwhile, a wider crackdown on dissent has been under way ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) took office last year.
The campaign has targeted even moderate critics of the Communist Party, alarming many Chinese activists and lawyers, and drawing condemnation from the US, EU and international rights groups.
Prominent legal activist Xu Zhiyong (許志永) was sentenced to four years in prison in January for backing demonstrations in which a handful of protesters held up banners calling for government officials to disclose their assets.
Concerns about Pu’s condition began to mount days after the Tiananmen anniversary, when he remained in detention even as other activists and lawyers were released.
On Monday, police denied bail to Pu, friends said.
Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party and arrests typically lead to conviction.
Zhang Sizhi (張思之), a longtime rights lawyer, wrote in an online posting on Wednesday that he was able to meet with Pu this week and that the detained lawyer has been subjected to daily interrogations lasting as long as 10 hours.
Several associates of Pu were also detained ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary, including journalist Wu Wei (吳薇) and Xin Jian (辛健), a Chinese staff member of the Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei, who recently interviewed the lawyer. Wu and Xin were released last week, according to campaign groups.
Amnesty International condemned Pu’s arrest on Friday night and called on authorities to release him.
“These are trumped-up charges against Pu Zhiqiang,” said Amnesty International China researcher William Nee.
“The Chinese authorities must end the witch hunt against those championing the rights of others and immediately release Pu,” he added.
“The past month has seen a widespread campaign of repression, with the authorities going further than in previous years, both in terms of who has been targeted and the harsh measures being used,” he added.
As news of Pu’s arrest circulated late on Friday, Ai — the dissident artist who repeatedly clashed with authorities and has been denied a passport — made a note of the arrest on his Instagram photosharing account.
He posted a photo of Pu, a news story about the arrest — and a Chinese-language expletive in the comments section below.
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