BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have questioned a prominent human rights lawyer about meetings with the former U.S. ambassador to China, his alleged “insults” against senior officials and his frequent trips to Japan, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most outspoken dissidents, was arrested in June on charges of causing a disturbance and illegal access to personal information in a case that sparked an outcry among rights workers in China and the West.
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 labour camps, which the government has abolished, and he was featured prominently in state media for that campaign - unusual for a government critic.
Pu was detained in May after he attended a meeting in a private home to commemorate the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The new details of the police interrogation will add to evidence that the case against Pu is politically motivated. Many human rights activists have said the charges against Pu were meant to silence a fierce critic of the ruling Communist Party.
China has stepped up a crackdown on dissent, detaining and jailing activists, muzzling internet critics and strengthening restrictions on journalists in what some rights groups call the worst suppression of free expression in years.
Beijing police have questioned Pu on his meetings with former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, who had asked Pu to share his views on human rights, said Pu’s lawyer, Zhang Sizhi. Locke left China in February.
“They wanted to know what they talked about,” Zhang told Reuters in an interview. “Of course, the public security bureau knew about this a long time ago.”
Zhang said the authorities could use Pu’s contacts with Locke to accuse him of “collusion”. In the past, Chinese police have used the charge of collusion with a “hostile foreign organisation” to arrest dissidents.
Beijing police could not be reached for comment.
Zhang said Beijing police had also questioned Pu in connection with his postings on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, that allegedly “insulted” senior officials including Mao Xinyu, a grandson of Mao Zedong, who holds the rank of major-general in the People’s Liberation Army.
Zhang said other people that Pu allegedly insulted were a Chinese legislator who said publicly that she has never voted no in a parliament session as well as officials from the railways ministry, which has a reputation for corruption.
Zhang said Pu has admitted to writing those posts, but said he did not mean to insult. If convicted of insulting people, Pu faces a maximum imprisonment of 10 years.
Beijing police also questioned Pu about his frequent trips to Japan, asking him “why he travelled to Japan four times every year”, Zhang said. Pu’s son studies in Japan.
According to Zhang, Beijing police have told him they have completed their interrogation of Pu but state prosecutors have not informed him yet whether they plan to prosecute.
Zhang said the case against Pu is politically motivated and said Pu himself said the chances of winning his case were “slim”.
“He is not optimistic and his pessimism is justified,” Zhang said. “I agree, there is no reason to be optimistic. It looks like someone really wants to take him down.”
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee