BEIJING (AP) — A prominent Chinese rights lawyer whose trial is drawing near on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and provoking trouble has been denied access to lawyers for nearly a month, his wife and one of his attorneys said Monday.
Meng Qun, wife of Pu Zhiqiang, raised the concern in an open letter addressed to the leadership of the Beijing detention center where her husband is being held, urging authorities to honor China's own rules to allow Pu access to lawyers.
One of Pu's attorneys, Shang Baojun, confirmed that Pu last met his lawyers on June 23 and verified the authenticity of Meng's letter.
Pu is widely believed to be politically persecuted amid Beijing's crackdown on civil society. The charges stem from his online posts that questioned China's ethnic policies in the wake of deadly violence involving ethnic minority Uighurs, and others that mocked several political figures.
He was taken away in May 2014 and was indicted on May 15 this year, after one year in detention.
Shang said he expects a Beijing court to hold Pu's trial soon, because by law Chinese courts have three months from the indictment to hold a trial and issue a verdict, but the authorities have not yet announced a date.
In her open letter, Meng said that Pu is entitled to meet his lawyers after the indictment but that the lawyers have been asked — contrary to China's own rules — to submit a meeting request.
Even after the lawyers put in a meeting request, the detention center has failed to accommodate a meeting within 48 hours, as stipulated by China's rules, Meng said.
"The lawyer put in a request on June 2, and the meeting was arranged only on June 23. It took as long as 21 days for approval," Meng wrote.
The lawyers protested, but to no avail, and they submitted another meeting request in late June, Meng wrote: "Nearly one month has passed, but there has not been one word."
Meng said she was told by the director of the detention center that only leaders from the ruling Communist Party can decide on the matter.
Beijing says it has been pushing for rule of law, but also has emphasized the party's leadership over the court system, prompting criticism that China is still ruled by the will of the party, rather than law.
Most recently, Chinese authorities have rounded up dozens of rights defense lawyers, accusing them of being rabble rousers, troublemakers and fame-seeking opportunists. Foreign governments and international rights groups have condemned Beijing's crackdown on lawyers, who are known for their insistence that the letter of the law be followed and that the government be held accountable.