Pu Zhiqiang, a prolific human rights lawyer and defender, was arrested by Chinese police on Friday, June 13, for “creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information.” Pu, one of China’s most outspoken advocates for human rights, was detained last month, along with more than 40 other journalists, lawyers, scholars and activists, after attending the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square crackdown.
Pu has worked as an activist for the New Rights Movement, a group that urged Chinese leaders to disclose their assets. He has also opposed forced labor camps, which the Chinese government eventually abolished, and has publicly criticized government officials, specifically calling for the cremation of Mao Zedong, who he claimed was “not any better than Hitler.”
Pu’s lawyer, Si Weijiang, said political reasons led to his arrest. “He’s innocent,” said Weijiang. “He hasn’t committed these crimes.”
Yet Pu’s state of innocence may not matter; Zhang Sizhi, a longtime rights lawyer, was able to meet with Pu this past week, and was told that Pu had been subjected to daily interrogations which would last for more than 10 hours. According to Sizhi, Pu could face a long jail term. In China, crimes for “disturbing the peace” carry a jail sentence of up to five years, while the charge for “illegally obtaining personal information” carries a maximum jail term of three years.
Pu’s arrest has been just one of many regarding recent governmental crackdowns on human rights advocates. Prior to this year’s Tienanmen anniversary, police put nearly 100 people in detention or under house arrest. Current President Xi Jinping, who took office in 2013, has only tightened these strict protocols against activists and intellectuals.
Despite Pu’s advocacy, he remained optimistic prior to his arrest. “I think I’m fine,” he told CNN last summer. “I’m a moderate, and the government has treated me well. I’m a veteran lawyer and haven’t made mistakes in my career. I’m not radical, and I don’t threaten the government.”
Yet his recent arrest has stirred friends and fellow activists, including the dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, who Pu represented. As Pu’s “other alleged crimes” are under investigation, Pu, via his lawyer, has remained quiet on the matter. “If I have to pay a price for June 4, I will do it,” Pu said, regarding the 1989 pro-democracy Tienanmen Square protests in which he took part. If this is the price, Pu will have gone down in history as an ardent activist who worked tirelessly to bring human rights issues to the forefront.
— Nick Magnanti