Pu Zhiqiang, a well-known Chinese human rights lawyer, was indicted on May 15 after the government claimed he was inciting ethnic hatred. This development comes after a year of being detained. His case has been slotted for a court that handles serious criminal offenses that carry potential life sentences or concern threats to national security.
The accusations against Pu Zhiqiang heavily reflect government displeasure with comments he published on social media over the course of several years. Prosecutors have argued that he disturbed the peace and created social unrest by posting offensive comments online on multiple occasions. Pu’s lawyers tell a different story. They post that all he did was publish opinions about public figures and incidents on Weibo, the Chinese social networking site. These comments, they say, were well within the coverage provided by China’s constitutional freedom of speech provisions.
The vast majority of the evidence provided by prosecutors indicate the majority of the charges related to a series of 28 messages in particular, all of which were posted between 2011 and 2014. These include critical words about the 1960s Communist Party propoganda figure Lei Feng and a 2013 terrorist attack on a railway station in the the city of Kunming. The indictment was announced days ahead of a legal deadline which would have required the government release Pu.
Over a year ago, government agents took Pu into custody after he participated in a small memorial commemorating the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing. He has defended dissidents like Ai Weiwei and his arrest seems to indicate a dramatic drop in tolerance on the part of President Xi Jinping, his administration, and the Chinese government at large for dissent.
Bill C-51, the most dramatic Canadian security reforms since 2001, has passed through Parliament. From there, it will be considered by the House of Commons and then the Senate. Early reports indicate the government has every intention to push Bill C-51 through the Senate as quickly as possible. Debate in the House at both the second and third reading was limited. The government did not invite the country’s Privacy Commissioner to testify. All this despite widespread pushback across the nation. Of all the proposed changes, only a small handful of amendments have been folded into it.
All forms of advocacy, protest, dissent, and artistic expression will be outside the purview of the proposed information sharing framework. This is a welcome development, given that even Amnesty International has expressed public concern that the previous wording of the bill would certainly infringe on rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
The same adaptation was not included in the new powers allotted to the CSIS to take action against perceived national security threats. Therefore, any protest or dissent (lawful or not) will remain protected when it comes to information sharing and criminal prosecutions. However, only lawful protest is safe from the CSIS disrupting security threats. So, for example, “artistic expression” is explicitly protected from information sharing but not with respect to threat reduction by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. This is certainly inconsistent, given that even “artistic expression” falls short of the freedom of expression outlined by both international human rights law and the Canadian Charter of Rights.
Information sharing, threat reduction, and criminal law must provide the same protections for dissent, protest, and advocacy – none of these can justly be included in the definition of threats to the security of Canada or of terrorist activity. These concerns do not even begin to address other troubling sections of the bill, which propose things like increased powers of preventative detention and permitting arrests without charge. The fundamentally problematic aspects of Bill C-51 remain and it still threatens to undermine, if not directly violate, Canada’s commitment to human rights. It is our duty as citizen to make our voices heard and denounce this attack on human rights.