Respected veteran lawyer Zhang Sizhi said yesterday he feared prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang might face a lengthy jail term after Pu said it was likely he would be charged very soon.
Pu was placed in criminal detention on May 6 on a charge of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" after he attended a small, private meeting on May 3 commemorating the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. Four other participants detained on the same charge were released on bail last week.
In an essay on the microblog of the journal Lawyer Digest dated yesterday, 87-year-old Zhang voiced his worries.
"The development of the situation is unfavourable towards [Pu], the heavy-handedness of the investigators … is beyond my expectation," Zhang wrote. "His case is not an ordinary case."
Zhang verified the authenticity of the essay over the telephone yesterday but refused to answer questions. He wrote that he was "unexpectedly" given an opportunity to meet Pu for an hour on Monday.
Zhang feared Pu would be indicted on several criminal charges and given a heavy jail sentence. He wrote that rumours that Pu, 49, would be released in days were "jokes", and guesses that he would be jailed for two or three years were "fantasies".
"How horrendous it would be [if they] hand down several punishments concurrently," he wrote. "His friends should be mentally prepared."
Zhang's essay quoted Pu as saying that he was interrogated "nearly every day, and sometimes for as long as 10 hours". Pu told Zhang that the interrogations involved a wide range of topics but told him not to talk to others about them.
He quoted Pu as saying on Monday that he believed prosecutors would approve a formal arrest "within the next few days" and expected prosecution to follow.
The prosecuting authorities are expected to announce today whether they will charge Pu as the official investigation period of 37 days for a suspect in criminal detention runs out. The prosecution is also expected to reveal whether there will be any change to the charge on which he was detained.
According to legal experts, after prosecutors approve charges following 37 days of criminal detention, police can carry on detaining individuals for several months more, during which time an indictment can be issued, leading to trial and formal sentencing.
Zhang said earlier this week that Pu had been denied bail by the police and they would likely press criminal charges against him.
He also wrote that the health of Pu, a diabetes sufferer, was further declining and although his request for release on medical grounds had been refused, he would apply for release again.