Chinese police have arrested a prominent human rights
lawyers on charges of causing a disturbance and illegal access
to personal information, in a case that has sparked an outcry
among rights workers in China and the West.
Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most outspoken dissidents, was
detained last month after he attended a meeting in a private
home to commemorate the bloody suppression of pro-democracy
protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Police also detained four other activists but later released
Beijing police had formally arrested Pu on "suspicion of the
crimes of causing a disturbance and illegal access to the
personal information of citizens after approval from the
prosecutors", the police said on their official microblog.
"As for Pu Zhiqiang's other alleged crimes, the public
security organs will conduct further investigation," the
Pu's lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, declined to give details of the
investigation and whether Pu would admit guilt, saying Pu had
told him not to give out such information.
In a statement posted on the Internet on Thursday, Zhang said
Pu could face a long jail term.
A formal arrest usually leads to indictment and, ultimately,
conviction in China, where courts are controlled by the
If Pu is indicted and tried, his case will be the latest
prosecution of an internationally recognised dissident since
the January sentencing of Xu Zhiyong, a rights advocate
jailed for four years after he called on officials to
disclose their wealth.
The charge of "causing a disturbance" carries a jail sentence
of up to five years, while the charge of "illegal access to
the personal information of citizens" carries a maximum jail
term of three years.
The United States and the European Union have urged China to
release Pu and other activists. Beijing rebuked the United
States for its call saying it had no right to demand that
criminals be freed.
Pu, 49, a free-speech lawyer, has represented many well-known
dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei and activists of the
"New Citizens' Movement", a group that has urged Chinese
leaders to disclose their assets.
He also opposed forced labor camps, which the government has
abolished, and he was featured prominently in state media for
that campaign - unusual for a government critic.
He has also criticised officials and called for the cremation
of Mao Zedong, who is embalmed in a mausoleum in Beijing,
saying he "is not any better than Hitler".
Addressing the gathering on the afternoon of May 3, Pu said
he never regretted participating in the 1989 protests as a
student. "If I have to pay a price for June 4, I will do it,"
he said, according to people there and lawyers representing
the detained activists.
President Xi Jinping's administration has stepped up pressure
on dissent, detaining and jailing activists, clamping down on
internet critics and tightening curbs on journalists in what
some rights groups call the worst suppression of free
expression in recent years.