As one of China’s most celebrated human rights lawyers was tried for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” security officials outside the court pushed and shoved journalists covering the trial.
The violence used against reporters was yet more proof of Chinese authorities clamping down on free speech and civil society by force.
Pu Zhiqiang was arrested for posting what appeared what the government deemed incendiary comments on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo. He has spent nearly 19 months in detention and, if found guilty, could face up to eight years in prison.
The Weibo posts that ultimately got Pu arrested included criticism of the Chinese government’s operation against the ethnic Uighur Muslims in the province of Xinjiang.
Although it was an open trial, reporters along with several diplomats from countries including the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as protesters supporting Pu, were barred from entering.
Here’s a video showing Chinese police officers dressed in plain clothes manhandling BBC’s John Sudworth:
A Sky News Asia correspondent was also shoved by a balaclava-clad official as she cried out, “Clearly the China they don’t want the rest of the world to see.”
And this photo shows Fairfax Media Asia’s Philip Wen being harassed:
The police also scuffled with dozens of protesters — a rare sight in a police state like China — chanting slogans against the government:
In a police state like China, chanting slogans in support of a human rights lawyer needs a lot of courage. pic.twitter.com/Y8NLO6qjEW— Eddie Du (@Edourdoo) December 14, 2015
A verdict has not been announced yet but critics say it will be an important indicator of China’s policy pertaining to human rights, especially free speech.
"Pu's trial is extremely important — he's the ultimate canary in the coal mine," said Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "If they decide to be harsh against him, I'd say it'll signify a further escalation of hostility towards human rights activism.”