Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei have finally tried two anti-graft activists who have been held since 2013 on public order charges, their lawyers told RFA on Wednesday.
Yuan Fengchu, also known as Yuan Bing, and Yuan Xiaohua were detained in June 2013 in the southern province of Guangdong while on an advocacy tour of the country.
Their trial on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble"closed on Tuesday at the Chibi Municipal People's Court.
Defense lawyer Lin Qilei said the prosecution had broken many legal procedures, including refusing to share evidence with the defense ahead of the trial.
"But all that this evidence showed was that these two men did nothing to disturb public order; the facts are very clear," Lin said. "This is a case of political persecution, and nothing the prosecution could produce proved this point."
A not guilty plea
Fellow defense lawyer Liu Zhengqing said both Yuans pleaded not guilty.
"They were very resolute about that, and said that they wished to establish freedom and democracy [in China], otherwise, what did China sign the U.N. rights covenants for?"
Security was tight with a strong police presence outside the court during the trial, and supporters were unable to get in to attend the hearing as spectators, fellow activists told RFA.
"There weren't many supporters because there were so many police and police vehicles, as well as plainclothes officers on surveillance for around 100 meters around the court," a supporter surnamed Chen told RFA.
A supporter surnamed Li said police in riot gear had thrown a security cordon around the court buildings, preventing them from approaching the area.
"There were building works outside the court buildings, and they had put traffic barriers across the road, so it was blocked off," Li said.
"They were asking anyone who tried to get through what they were doing there."
"Some people were detained at the Chibi bus station," he said.
Guangdong-based rights activist Jia Pin and Guangxi-based activist Huang Yuzhang both reported being tortured after their detention on Tuesday.
A seat on the tiger bench
"On the night of my detention, they wouldn't let me sleep, and they cuffed me to the tiger bench," Jia said in an interview on Wednesday, in a reference to a chair with restraints.
“The Chibi police were extremely rough and rude, and they threatened me," Jia added. "The next day, I saw a lot of other people in the police station, and the police beat some of them."
He said Hunan activist Zhu Chengzhi, 65, was roughly handled during his detention at the Chibi train station.
"He was unwilling to go along with them when they detained him ... and they broke his left thumb," Jia said.
Meanwhile, Huang Yuzhang said he was grabbed by three police officers at the railway station and dragged into a room there.
"They carried out a detailed search ... and then they asked me why I had come to Chibi," he said.
The two Yuans, who are unrelated, had previously been formally arrested on subversion charges. Under China's criminal system, a verdict and sentence is likely within six weeks.
Trial in secret
A third activist, Huang Wenxun, was detained around the same time as the two Yuans, and is believed to have been tried in secret and sentenced to four years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power."
All three activists were held at the Jiayu County Detention Center in Chibi, where Huang and Yuan Fengchu were reportedly beaten by inmates, said rights groups and their lawyer.
Huang was detained after he took part in a peaceful march on March 31, 2013 through Guangzhou's city center along with 10 others, holding placards calling on officials to disclose their assets and to implement political reform.
Dozens of people linked in some way to the anti-graft New Citizens' Movement group have been detained over the past year, according to Amnesty International.
Anti-graft campaigner and movement founder Xu Zhiyong was handed a four-year jail term in January 2014 on public order charges after staging a street protest calling for greater transparency from the country's richest and most powerful people.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.