Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have further extended the pretrial detention of two prominent rights activists facing subversion charges linked to their support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, their lawyers said.
Activist Chen Qitang, better known as Tian Li, was indicted on Dec. 8, 2015 by the Foshan Intermediate People's Court for "incitement to subvert state power," and the three-month limit for pretrial detention expired on Tuesday, her lawyer said.
Now, the court has extended her detention for a further three months, at the same time extending that of fellow activist Su Changlan, detained in October 2014 on identical charges.
Both activists were detained after publicly supporting the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in neighboring Hong Kong, Tian's lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told RFA.
"Su Changlan's detention was extended a while ago, because she was detained a month before Tian Li," Liu said. "Tian Li's was extended yesterday."
Liu said the case against the two women should be fairly straightforward, and not need repeated extensions to their detention.
"They don't normally extend pretrial detention in regular criminal cases unless they are extremely complicated, because extensions have to be approved by the Supreme People's Court in Beijing," Liu said.
"But they are in the habit of making politically sensitive cases drag out for as long as they can."
'Dragging things out'
In the case of Su and Tian, both cases had already been extended at the investigation stage before being sent back twice by the prosecutor's office to police for further evidence-gathering, after which the court also extended their pretrial detention, Liu said.
"The court says it has a big backlog, but I think that they are deliberately dragging things out," he said. "We have no idea of a trial date, and we are still waiting for it to be set."
He said he isn't optimistic about the outcome for the two activists.
"The longer they drag this out and the longer they detain them, the higher the likelihood of their being sentenced to prison," Liu said.
Meanwhile, Su's defense lawyer Wu Kuiming said his client is well aware that the authorities are acting deliberately.
"She knows very well that they are dragging their feet, and she is psychologically prepared for it," Wu said. "We all know what they're doing, because we have seen it so many times as lawyers."
He said Su, a former primary school teacher and candidate for local People's Congress elections, has been in poor health during her time in the Foshan detention center.
State media outlets run by the ruling Chinese Communist Party described Hong Kong's Occupy Central pro-democracy movement as an illegal protest backed by "hostile foreign forces."
Once a volunteer for the New York-based Women's Rights in China group, Su is in poor health, amid concerns from her family that her health needs are being neglected.
Her husband Chen Dequan has previously applied to Foshan police under freedom of information laws to get detailed information about his wife's condition, and also to answer allegations that she was forced into "confessing" her guilt.
But police have refused the request, saying it doesn't involve "government information."
Civil society under pressure
The detentions come as Beijing moves to intensify pressure on civil society groups, which include those campaigning for the rights of women, migrant workers, consumers, students in education, sex workers, and those with disabilities and diseases.
Under a draft Overseas NGO Management Law currently under discussion, police will be given vastly expanded powers governing the operations of overseas nonprofit organizations in China, particularly in terms of funding Chinese NGOs, rights groups say.
The draft law’s provisions would affect all international nonprofits, including schools, hospitals, churches, charities, and sports clubs, and include groups based in Hong Kong and Macau.
Authorities will also be able to block Chinese organizations from receiving funding from overseas NGOs that have not registered inside the country or who haven't received a permit from police.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.