Prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang stands trial in China on charges of inciting ethnic hatred. Natasha Howitt reports.
It is one of China's most high-profile human rights trials this year -- Pu Zhiqiang, a well-known Chinese rights lawyer, is standing trial on charges of inciting ethnic hatred. The charges, his lawyers say, revolve around seven microblog posts that he made online. The posts criticized China's ethnic policy in the troubled region of Xinjiang, and denounced several officials. He now faces up to eight years in prison if convicted. Outside the courthouse, supporters gather in solidarity. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) PROTESTER FROM HARBIN, SUN ZHONGSHANG, SAYING: "If we, as ordinary people, in China don't speak out, we will be repressed. Just like this, (we will) be pushed down and repressed. We need freedom of speech! We need democracy! We need peace!" Police presence was higher than usual. Pu's case will be seen by rights groups and the West as a measure of what they say is China's most severe clamp-down on human rights in two decades. As many as 11 diplomats from countries including the United States, Germany and France, were also outside the courthouse. U.S. diplomat Dan Biers was among them - when he first began to read out his statement, police moved in and shoved him away from the cameras. He was later able to speak. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. EMBASSY DEPUTY POLITICAL COUNSELLOR, DAN BIERS, SAYING: "The Embassy of the United States remains concerned that Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent Chinese defence lawyer, is being tried under vague charges of inciting ethnic hatred and picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Lawyers and civil society leaders, such as Mr. Pu, should not subject to continuing repression, but should be allowed to contribute to the building of a prosperous and stable China. We urge Chinese authorities to release Mr. Pu and call upon China to uphold fundamental civil rights and fair trial guarantees as enshrined in the PRC (People's Republic of China) constitution and its international human rights commitments. Thank you." Pu has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei and activists of the "New Citizens' Movement". He was detained in May 2014 after attending a meeting to commemorate the suppression of pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. Pu participated in the protests, and has vowed to commemorate them every year.