(From Reuters)

A Chinese court convicted one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers on Tuesday for seven online posts that criticized the government, but handed down a three-year suspended sentence that would result in his immediate release from custody.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang
Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang

The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court said Pu Zhiqiang was being punished on the charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, state television CCTV said on its microblog.

Pu, 50, was sentenced to three years in prison but given a three-year reprieve, said his lawyer, Shang Baojun.

The suspended sentence means Pu does not have to serve prison time as long as he stays under formal probation during that period, legal experts said.

It means that Pu would be released on Tuesday, Shang said, although he could be placed under “residential surveillance” – a form of detention in China that is used to keep dissidents in sites away from the public eye.

Pu had spent nearly 19 months in detention before his trial last week, which lasted just over three hours. His lawyers said he could have faced an eight-year sentence.

Shang said Pu would not appeal against the decision, and said Pu was relieved about the court’s decision.

“He said he thanks everyone and he wants to rest,” Shang said, recounting a private conversation Pu had with his lawyers after the verdict.

“He also said if there’s an opportunity, history will deliver a true judgment.”

State news agency Xinhua said the court decided “to impose a lenient punishment” due to “the fact that the defendant Pu Zhiqiang truthfully confessed to the facts of the crime and positively pleaded guilty”.

However, Shang said Pu did not plead guilty.

On Tuesday, police and plainclothes security officers prevented foreign reporters, Pu’s supporters and diplomats from the United States, the European Union and Switzerland from approaching the courthouse.

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