A social media user in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong who called President Xi Jinping by a forbidden nickname in an online chat session stood trial on Thursday on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
The trial of Wang Jiangfeng, who reportedly referred to the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as "Steamed Bun Xi" in a group message to the smartphone apps WeChat and QQ, took place inside the police-run Zhaoyuan Detention Center on Thursday, his lawyer told RFA.
"Today, we presented all of the electronic evidence on DVD, for confirmation by the defendant and for remarks by the defense," Wang's lawyer Li Yongheng said. "When the evidence was fully verified, then we had the arguments."
"Our view is is that while the defendant used disrespectful and insulting language about current and former leaders, that it wasn't of a very serious nature," he said, adding that Wang had sent messages referring to late supreme leader Mao Zedong and to President Xi.
"For example, he talked about 'Bandit Mao' and 'Steamed Bun Xi,' and that sort of talk. I don't think it was serious enough to merit the charge of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," he said.
"Steamed Bun Xi" has been a banned word on China's tightly controlled internet since the president ordered the buns during a visit to a Beijing restaurant in December 2013, prompting petitioners to gather outside toting a placard that read "President Xi, I'd like to eat baozi" in a bid to get their grievances against the communist party heard.
The incident sparked an online meme in which Xi was referred to jokingly as Steamed Bun Xi, in a pun on the name of a legendary Song dynasty official who fought corruption. Censors later banned the meme, deleting social media posts that contained references to it.
Security was tight around the detention center, with police checkpoints within a 300-meter (984-foot) radius of the building, preventing Wang's supporters from gathering outside.
Li said Wang actions should fall within the limits of free speech.
"My clients actions fell within the definition of free speech, and he attacked various leaders because he didn't share their political views," he said. "His language might have been a bit off, but it would be overdoing it to give him a prison sentence."
"The prosecution said it was a case of insulting a leader in a serious manner that disrupted public order."
Wang's sister Wang Jiangyun agreed.
"I could see that my brother was innocent just from the evidence submitted by the prosecution," she said. "My brother said the things he did within his private circles of friends on WeChat. He was just expressing his personal opinions."
"He had no impact on society whatsoever, because he didn't try to get people to gather together, and there was no public disturbance," she said, drawing parallels with the kangaroo courts of Mao-era China.
"For them to try to use these things to charge him with a crime is a lot like the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976]. Are we back to that now?"
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.