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

Sources: CNN, The Guardian, Reuters
Photo: CNN

Zimbabwe human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, has been acquitted on charges of obstructing justice and being unruly to police.

The recipient of several international awards, Mtetwa grew up in Swaziland, the eldest daughter of 50 children. After earning her law degree, she moved to Zimbabwe after it gained its independence in the 1980’s and soon set up her own firm defending victims of the repressive government. She has spent the past three decades defending freedom of speech under President Robert Mugabe, of whom she is a strong critic.

‘Beatrice Mtetwa & the Rule of Law’ is a recent documentary project about Mtetwa’s career-long struggle. Hailed as Africa’s top human rights lawyer, her cause is to uphold the rule of law as the foundation for democracy and economic growth. She names Mugabe a dictator, calling him out for creating self-serving, harmful laws which fly in the face of human rights.

Mugabe’s long presidency has been fraught with criticisms including his violent land redistribution policy, highly questionable elections, and free speech restrictions. Mtetwa’s clients include peace activists and journalists whom she defends on constitutional grounds. Foreign correspondent Andrew Meldrum, for example, was arrested and then deported from Zimbabwe after having been found innocent in the courts. His expulsion, according to Jonathon Moyo, a member of parliament, had to do with the country’s right to stop the media from being “hostile” towards Zimbabwean government. A law enacted by Mugabe, which made insulting the president a crime, was recently declared unconstitutional by Zimbabwe’s highest courts, but the country is still hostile toward free journalism in general. Currently in Zimbabwe, a person can be sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a false statement, creating an obviously unfriendly atmosphere for free speech.

It is this type of corruption which Mtetwa has devoted her career to stopping. According to many, it was her influence in this respect which led to her arrest.

Mtetwa was arrested in March of this year during a raid on the offices of foreign Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The officers were searching for an official from Tsvangirai’s Movement for a Democratic Change. It was alleged that Mtetwa shouted at the officers, saying that their actions were unconstitutional, illegal, and unlawful. It was furthermore said that she insulted the officers by calling them “Mugabe’s dogs.” Her arrest was widely condemned and interpreted as an attempt to intimidate other Zimbabwean lawyers. Mtetwa herself termed it a “set-up.”

On November 25, the courts ruled that Mtetwa’s actions had not interfered with the officers doing their jobs, and she was therefore released. But the problems facing Zimbabwe’s government remain.

– Kathleen Walsh

Sources: BBC 1, 2, Rule of Law, Washington Post, The Guardian, African Spotlight