China stops prominent rights lawyer from meeting German minister

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese police blocked a prominent human rights lawyer from meeting Germany's deputy chancellor, the lawyer said on Wednesday, in the latest example of curbs on government critics in China.

Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was unable to hold talks with members of Chinese civil society during a visit to Beijing on Tuesday, though he declined to comment on why the planned meeting at the German embassy had not taken place.

Mr Gabriel had told reporters travelling with him to China that he would meet critics of the Chinese government, saying he believed that European politicians had an obligation to show support for such dissidents.

But police came to the office of the human rights lawyer, Mo Shaoping, and said they had received orders "from above" that Mr Mo was not allowed to attend, Mr Mo told Reuters. "They must have understood that I had been invited and so came over to say that I could not go," he said. "This is quite typical. It's not the first time it has happened."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he was unaware of the incident. "I believe that Germans, as a very rigorous people, know how to be a (good) guest in other countries," Mr Qin told a daily news briefing. "We uphold the principle of mutual respect and equality in dealing with differences to be able to increase dialogue and understanding. This is the ... necessary path to take."

Mr Gabriel is on a two-day visit to China, accompanied by a large delegation of business officials. He raised the issue of human rights and the rule of law during hour-long talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Two years ago police blocked Mr Mo, who defended China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo in his 2009 trial, from attending a Beijing dinner hosted by German leader Angela Merkel. Ms Merkel will visit China again in July. "It's regretful, but this is the present situation in China," Mr Mo said. "I was invited, as an ordinary citizen, by a visiting foreign dignitary, and there is no legal basis for stopping me."

However, Mr Mo said he had been able to meet German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier earlier in the month, when he was in China.

Hu Xingdou, a specialist in migrant issues at the Beijing Institute of Technology and an outspoken critic on social issues, said he had been invited to meet Mr Gabriel too, but could not go as he was teaching.

It was ridiculous that the police should be telling people like Mr Mo they could not meet Mr Gabriel, Mr Hu added. "This is China blackening its own name in front of Germany," Mr Hu told Reuters.

China generally takes exception to criticism of its human rights record by other countries, saying this amounts to an unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.

China this month accused Britain of interfering in its domestic affairs after the government criticised Beijing's human rights record.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration has ratcheted up pressure on dissent, detaining and jailing activists, clamping down on Internet critics and tightening curbs on journalists in what some rights groups call the worst suppression of free expression in recent years.