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Prominent Chinese lawyer gets suspended jail sentence in online speech case

One of China’s most celebrated human rights lawyers has been handed a suspended three-year prison sentence after posting comments critical of the ruling Communist Party.

Pu Zhiqiang was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and picking quarrels on his social media posts.

He also condemned government policy in the mainly Muslim far-western region of Xinjiang as “absurd”.

Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, escaped jail after he was convicted of “inciting racial hatred”.

The main accusations against Pu revolve around seven microblog posts on his online accounts, his lawyers say. Last week’s trial attracted a mob of Pu’s supporters which clashed with police.

The worldwide community, including the US government, had criticized China for suppressing free speech by detaining Pu for 19 months without trial.

After more than a year in detention, cut off from the world and unable to see his wife, prosecutors asked for more time to gather evidence. He needs some rest now.

He accepted the ruling and will not appeal, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The United States has protested the arrest of Pu and, before the trial began last week, a senior USA diplomat read a statement outside the courthouse calling for Pu’s release and expressing concern that he was being tried “under vague charges”.

But rights groups were swift to condemn the verdict.

“CHRD urges the global community to pressure the Xi Jinping government to drop the charges against Pu and push for the immediate and unconditional release of all other detained or disappeared human rights lawyers”, the group said.

The guilty verdict disqualifies Pu from practicing law, and he must comply with certain restrictions and not commit crimes during the three-year period or risk being jailed.

Amnesty International said the suspended prison sentence was “a deliberate attempt by the Chinese authorities to shackle a champion of freedom of expression”.

It remains unclear if Pu would be freed from detention immediately. It has also highlighted the situation faced by human rights lawyers in the country.

Pu was detained shortly after attending a May 2014 meeting to discuss commemorating 25 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, at a time when authorities were keeping a lid on any public commemorations of the event.

On the website Freeweibo.com, Pu’s name was the top-trending censored topic, followed by the landslide in Shenzhen.

The court sentenced him to 36 months in prison but also said the term will be suspended.

From the auto, Pu said he was “safe and sound” in a text message sent to The Associated Press.

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