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.