A Chinese court has given prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang a suspended three-year sentence for making comments critical of the Communist Party. The ruling will likely keep him out of prison for now.
A Beijing court found Pu guilty of "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" for comments he made on social media over China's ethnic policies and criticism of officials.
Pu has been a vocal supporter of free speech and represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei. He has also represented labor camp victims and criticized government policies over Tibet and the ethnic Uyghur.
"Today's verdict also means, Pu Zhiqiang could not serve as a practicing lawyer. He can't provide legal services or assistance as a lawyer," Shang Baojun, one of Pu's lawyers, told DW.
"However, the verdict was still a relief to us. At least, it means he can be released quite soon after spending almost 19 months in jail," explained Shang, who is worried about the working environment of Chinese lawers after Pu's case.
His supporters were relieved that the suspended sentence likely means the human rights lawyer will not have to spend time in prison, but expressed outrage over the guilty verdict and a sentence that effectively silences him for the near future.
Under the three-year sentence, Pu will be monitored by police and can only leave Beijing with permission.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, Pu decided not to lodge an appeal against the court's decision.
"Clearly it is positive that Pu Zhiqiang is unlikely to spend another night in jail, yet that cannot hide the gross injustice against him," said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International. "He is no criminal and this guilty verdict effectively shackles one of China's bravest champions of human rights from practicing law."
Pu was arrested in May 2014 as part of a wider nationwide crackdown on dissidents after attending a meeting to discuss commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, a taboo topic in China.
The case against him related to seven social media posts between 2011 and 2014 in what critics argue is a politically motivated attack on rights defenders.
Pu's case has drawn the attention of rights groups and foreign governments, several of which said they were not allowed into the courtroom because officials said it was overcrowded.
cw/jil (AFP, AP, dpa)