Scuffle outside rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang's trial in Beijing

BEIJING - Security agents forcibly kept dozens of people away from the Beijing court where rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang stood trial Monday, and authorities roughed up at least five protesters before taking them away in vehicles.

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At least one foreign journalist also reported being slammed to the ground.

The scuffles with police and plainclothes agents started when a couple dozen foreign journalists tried to approach the courthouse while they were following about a dozen Western diplomats who unsuccessfully tried to attend what was meant to be a public proceeding.

Once the trial started, a U.S. Embassy official began to read a statement about 300 metres from the court entrance. As the diplomat started speaking amid a scrum of cameras and reporters, security agents kept pushing the group farther away.

Men in plainclothes - each wearing a yellow sticker with a smiley face - emerged from the rows of police and started separating protesters from reporters, pushing some of the reporters and their assistants.

The scuffles attracted the attention of passers-by, and about 50 people gathered and shouted slogans, including "Pu Zhiqiang is innocent."

Many of the protesters said they had benefited personally from Pu's legal work, while most said they simply came to support him.

They were forcibly dispersed by the plainclothes officers, with three of them roughed up and taken away to a nearby van. Two more protesters were later snatched and driven away in police vans. At least one other protester was pushed to the ground.

At least one journalist also was slammed to the group during the scuffles, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China reported.



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