BEIJING (AP) -- One of China's most prominent human rights lawyers is due to stand trial Monday for comments on social media that were critical of the ruling Communist Party in a case that international rights groups say is political persecution.
Pu Zhiqiang, who took on cases relating to civil rights and freedom of speech, has been detained for more than a year and a half. He has been indicted on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and picking quarrels to stir up trouble.
Since coming to power in 2013, President Xi Jinping has spearheaded crackdowns on civil activists, rights lawyers and online freedom. Critics say these are aimed at snuffing out any potential threats to the party's grip on power.
The charges against Pu relate to a number of posts on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo that questioned the ruling Communist Party's policies toward the Tibetan and Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) ethnic minorities in the Tibet and Xinjiang regions, and mocked political figures.
Rights groups have said he faces up to eight years in prison.
Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, called Pu's trial "an act of political persecution."
"He is being punished solely for standing up to the Chinese government in his courageous defense of human rights," he said.
Pu was detained by police in early May 2014 after attending an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in which hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed, and which is a taboo subject in China. Pu participated in the protests as a student.
Amnesty International says there have been "repeated procedural irregularities" in his prosecution, including a prolonged pre-trial detention, denial of adequate medical care and prosecutors refusing to disclose evidence against him to his defense lawyers.
Pu's clients included artist Ai Weiwei and he pushed hard for the eventual abolishment of the labor camp system, which allowed police to lock up people for up to four years without a trial.