Lawyers representing two anti-corruption activists walked out of a Beijing district court on Wednesday in protest on the second day of their resumed trials, citing flagrant breaches of legal procedure and the rules of evidence.
The trial of New Citizens' Movement activists Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei on charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" had resumed for a second day at the Haidian District People's Court in the west of the Chinese capital after the pair dismissed their legal team during initial trial proceedings in January.
Rights attorneys Sui Muqing, who represents Ding, and Jiang Yuanmin, who is defending Li, staged the protest after being presented with photocopies of evidence against their clients rather than original documents.
Sui told RFA that he was issued with two warnings by court officials for his protests over the procedural breach, and fined 1,000 yuan (U.S. $161) in disciplinary charges.
"Actually, what they are doing is a crime," Sui said in an interview after leaving the courtroom. "We plan to sue them ... for abuse of power."
However, he said the walkout was a temporary protest, and didn't yet amount to a withdrawal of counsel.
"My withdrawal from the courtroom led to a temporary halt in proceedings, but it doesn't mean that I'm refusing to mount a defense," Sui said.
"If the court follows procedure and supplies the original documents, then I will continue to take part in the trial," he said.
Jiang said there wasn't a single original among more than 100 documents presented as evidence for the prosecution.
"They were all photocopies. Not one was an original," he said. "When we said we were withdrawing, [the judge] threatened us, saying that if we left the courtroom, he would ... demand that we were punished."
"Sui Muqing objected, and the judge fined him 1,000 yuan."
As on Tuesday, foreign diplomats and human rights observers were barred from entering the courtroom, and security remained tight in the streets outside.
The court also prevented the defense from calling witnesses, while the only observers on the defendants' side allowed into the courtroom were Li's parents, Sui said.
"The security measures are the same [as yesterday]," he said. "There are police everywhere, police lines and plainclothes officers."
He said Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Wang Jingping was incommunicado after being expected in Beijing to help with the defense on Tuesday.
"His car is pretty eye-catching," Sui said. "He has written 'is it a crime to ask leaders to reveal their assets?' on it."
"We have been looking for him in two police stations so far, but we haven't been able to find him."
A third defense attorney quoted judges as saying that the trial will resume "at a later date."
String of trials
Ding and Li are the latest in a string of anti-graft activists to be tried for calling for official transparency over private wealth.
Since taking power in November 2012, President Xi Jinping has vowed to take down high-ranking "tigers" and lower-level "flies" in his anti-corruption campaign.
But the government is also apparently keen to avoid revealing too much embarrassing information about the inner workings of China's power elite, which could threaten its grip on power.
A third New Citizens Movement activist, Zhao Changqing, is expected to stand trial on Thursday.
Ding was detained on April 17, 2013 and initially tried at at the same time as Li, but the trial was postponed after Ding's lawyer resigned on Jan. 27 amid procedural disputes.
In January, New Citizens’ Movement leader Xu Zhiyong, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, was sentenced to four years in prison on identical public order charges.
A court is expected to rule on Xu's appeal against his sentence on Friday, but rights groups say they fully expect the appeal court to uphold the original verdict and jail sentence handed down to Xu on Jan. 26 by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.