BEIJING - A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer has denied serious accusations, including that he incited"ethnic hatred" and separatism, charges which could lead to life in jail, his lawyers said on Wednesday.
Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most outspoken dissidents, was arrested in June on charges of causing a disturbance and illegally accessing personal information in a case that drew international condemnation.
The accusations have since been upgraded to include inciting ethnic hatred and separatism, lawyer Mo Shaoping told Reuters, following a meeting with Pu. "He's denying everything," Mo said.
Mo and Pu's other lawyer, Shang Baojun, said the new accusations were related to microblog posts in which he criticised Beijing's account of a knife attack in the southwestern city of Kunming, and also about China's dispute with Japan over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
China blamed the March attack that killed 29 people on Islamist militants from the restive far western region of Xinjiang. "You (the party) just give me one line - extremely heavy casualties with too brutal consequences - but to say you bear no responsibility for Xinjiang separatists' cruelty, I am not satisfied with that," Pu wrote in his March 2 microblog post.
Shang said that as the accusations were so serious, Pu could face a long time in jail, possibly life.
The charges add to evidence that the case against him is politically motivated, his supporters say. They come amid what rights groups say is the most severe clampdown on human rights in decades.
Shang said prosecutors had sent Pu's case back to the police for further investigation, meaning a trial is still a long way off.
Pu, 49, a free-speech lawyer, has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei and activists of the "New Citizens' Movement", a group that has called on Chinese leaders to make their wealth public.
He also opposed forced labour camps, which the government has abolished, and he was featured prominently in state media for that campaign - unusual for a government critic.
Pu was first detained in May after he attended a meeting in a private home to commemorate the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Police could not be reached for comment.