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Dispatches: No Justice for Chinese Rights Lawyer

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” the saying goes.  But this week’s decision by a Beijing court to extend the pre-trial detention of prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang shows that while there’s plenty of delay on offer in China’s legal system, there’s precious little justice.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang talks to media in Beijing in this July 20, 2012 picture. © 2012 Reuters

Pu has had a distinguished career representing many individuals and causes that irk Beijing, ranging from representing outspoken artist Ai Weiwei to pushing for the Chinese government to end arbitrary detention without trial.  That latter focus seems especially ironic, given he has been held for 18 months on utterly baseless charges.

The authorities took Pu into custody in May 2014 after he attended a small private seminar in Beijing on the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre; this apparently constituted “creating a disturbance.” When he was formally arrested on June 13, police added a second charge of “illegally obtaining citizens’ personal information.” When the police sent Pu’s case to the procuratorate – China’s prosecutor – in November, it recommended Pu be prosecuted on two additional, more serious crimes of “inciting splittism” (advocating separatism) and “inciting ethnic hatred.”

In May 2015 — after a year in custody and after the procurators sent the case back to the police for “further investigation” two times, each with an extension for Pu’s detention—Beijing procurators announced Pu would be tried on the charges of public disorder and ethnic hatred, but did not set a trial date. In August authorities announced they would delay his trial date for another three months; on November 18 this announcement was repeated.

If China had a truly independent, impartial and professional judicial system, Pu would never have been in detention in the first place; the publicly available evidence shows nothing that would substantiate the charges against him.  Such a judicial system would not have allowed such prolonged detention before the suspect saw a judge, was able to challenge the basis for his detention, and had regular access to family and lawyers. 

Pu languishes in detention precisely because China’s legal system is so nakedly politicized. Because Beijing cannot decide what do with Pu, whose case has attracted considerable international attention, it will use the “legal” system to continue silencing him. 

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