Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong on Friday handed a six-month jail term to detained rights lawyer Shu Xiangxin, whose lawyers say he was tortured while in custody at a police-run detention center.
Shu was found guilty of "defamation" at a one-day trial at the Licheng District People's Court in Shandong's provincial capital, Jinan.
"He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment," his lawyer Cai Xin told RFA after the trial.
His wife, Liu Xiuqin, said she is extremely concerned for her husband's physical and mental health after seeing him in the dock on Friday.
"He seemed confused, and he couldn't stand up properly; he was propped up by a couple of policemen when they brought him in," Liu said.
"He seemed wobbly on his legs and a bit dazed, spaced out," she said, adding that the family plans to appeal.
"Shu is innocent," Liu said. "Shu is being targeted now because he helped some people bring cases in the past."
According to Shu's lawyers, he was punched, dragged, left in the cold with scant clothing and hanged by a handcuff from an iron bar for eight hours while in detention.
He was denied medical treatment, food, water or toilet facilities despite crying out repeatedly, and eventually lost consciousness, they told RFA.
During Shu's trial, his lawyers were denied the opportunity to argue in his defense, and prevented from submitted files of evidence.
"They wouldn't let the defense attorney in there, and they wouldn't allow them to bring in all the case files," Cai Ying said. "Then, they searched the lawyers and wouldn't let them keep their phones."
"The lawyers lodged a complaint with the court, so they wouldn't let me go in, and they just went ahead with the trial and sentencing," he said.
"I think that this was an incorrect verdict, because the facts of the case weren't proven; I don't think that they made the charges of extortion stand up," he said.
Cai said he had applied for Shu's release on “bail,” as his client's hearing appeared to have suffered following his beating in detention.
"He doesn't represent any sort of a threat to society," Cai said. "Why are they still holding him? We think that this is an abnormal thing to do."
Beating outside court
Meanwhile, video shot by supporters outside the court buildings showed an unidentified man beating Shu's daughter unconscious, leading to her hospitalization, her mother said.
"My daughter is unconscious right now, and I don't know exactly what happened," Liu said. "She is being transferred from one hospital to another."
Jinan resident and supporter Zhang Jinfeng was outside the court along with many others, she told RFA.
"I got to the scene at 1:10 p.m., and the first wave of police came over about five minutes later," Zhang said.
"There was heavy police security on all the gates ... I was standing at the gates, and managed to take a couple of photos before the state security police came over and told me to leave," she said.
"I'm guessing there were about 200 [supporters] there in total."
She said some fellow activists had gone to visit Shu's daughter in the hospital, while others had gone to a local police station to file a report about the beating.
"It was the son of the plaintiff in the defamation case," Zhang said.
Shu was initially detained in November 2012, after he had spent several months gathering evidence of connections between local officials and organized crime in Jinan.
His lawyers said at the time that he had been detained in connection with his work on behalf of villagers who were trying to fight the acquisition of their land by local officials.
He had also made online allegations that an official in Shandong's Guan county had tried to bribe him to drop an "extortion" lawsuit brought against the government by local farmers, and that he had been beaten and harassed by local mobsters, official media reported at the time.
Authorities later withheld Shu's lawyer's business license, a tactic frequently used by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to target lawyers who represent "sensitive" and disadvantaged groups, often evictees who have had their land requisitioned by cash-strapped local governments.
Shu was redetained suddenly last Friday on the same charges and held in the Jinan No. 2 Detention Center.
Call for immediate release
Rights groups hit out at his torture in detention, and called for his immediate release.
"Shu Xiangxin’s recent mistreatment illustrates that little has changed since the UN Committee against Torture made recommendations intended to urge the Chinese government to abide by its international treaty obligations," the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a number of rights groups including Human Rights in China condemned Shu's treatment in a statement on the website of the World Organization Against Torture.
"Our organizations strongly denounce the continued use of torture and harassment against human rights defenders and lawyers in China," the statement, also signed by the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, said.
"We urge the Chinese authorities to respect their domestic and international human rights obligations and ensure that lawyers and defenders can safely carry out their legitimate and peaceful activities, without which the future of rule of law in China is grim," it said.
"We call on the international community ... not to give China a free pass for these violations of international human rights standards."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.