Ed Jones / AFP / Getty Images

Lawyer who questioned China policies charged with ‘provoking trouble’

Pu Zhiqiang, who defended artist Ai Weiwei, criticized Beijing’s treatment of Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang

A prominent Chinese rights lawyer, who was taken into custody a year ago, was formally indicted on charges of fanning ethnic hatred and provoking trouble, Chinese officials said Friday.

A Beijing prosecutors' office said in a statement that Pu Zhiqiang should be criminally prosecuted for his online comments which, they said, fanned ethnic hatred and insulted people in a disruption of social order.

Pu, who has represented the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, was taken into custody last May after he attended a private meeting commemorating the 25th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The charges largely stem from postings in which Pu questioned China's ethnic policies and practices following violence by members of the ethnic minority Uighurs and criticized some public figures. The ethnic violence has left hundreds of people dead in China in the last couple of years. Although Beijing has blamed the tension on religiously influenced armed groups with foreign ties, Pu is among those who have asked for a review of China's ethnic practices and policies.

"If Xinjiang is indeed part of China, don't treat it as a colony, don't behave like conquerors and looters," Pu wrote on his microblog, which had been shut down by the authorities.

Prosecutors dropped a more severe charge of inciting divisions as well as a charge of illegally obtaining personal information.

Mo Shaoping, a Beijing-based lawyer who is representing Pu and most recently represented the jailed dissident journalist Gao Yu, said he had expected reduced charges. "I don't think the remaining two charges have any basis," Mo said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department called for Pu's release, and Beijing told Washington not to interfere with China's judicial affairs.

Pu is best known for his successful efforts to abolish China's labor camps, which allowed police to lock up people for up to four years without a trial or judicial review. Before his detention, he was trying to call attention to a long-standing extrajudicial practice of the ruling Communist Party of locking up members who are accused of wrongdoing.

On social media, Pu also criticized some public figures or made sarcastic remarks about them. For example, he suggested that a mayor was shameless for serving three different party chiefs. Pu also poked fun at an octogenarian national delegate who has never voted 'no' during her six-decade tenure at the national congress by suggesting she would be honored if she should die now.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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