Authorities in the central province of Hunan on Tuesday tried two political activists for "arson and setting off explosives" after they collected signatures online in support of political reforms, lawyers and overseas websites said.
Xu Guangli and Yin Weihe, who were previously told they might be charged with subversion, appeared together at the Xiangxiang city People's Court in Hunan's Xiangtan county in a trial that lasted just four hours, according to the overseas-based Chinese news website Boxun and a lawyer for the two men.
The pair, whose signature campaign was sparked by a number of calls for political reform by outgoing premier Wen Jiabao, are likely to receive jail terms of anywhere from three to 10 years, according to lawyer Wu Jun.
"I suppose you could say it went smoothly," Wu said. "According to the criminal law, arson and setting explosives requires a prison term of between three and 10 years."
Wu suggested that the political nature of the case had forced Xu and Yin's legal team to make a plea bargain with state prosecutors.
"Today, we wanted to plead not guilty, but because we thought the likelihood that the court would accept such an argument wasn't very high, we have had to alter our stance somewhat," he said.
"That's all I can tell you, because this case is a bit out of the ordinary."
Xu and Yin were detained by police in May at Yin's home, which was later searched by around 15 police, including some officers from the state security police, rights activist said at the time.
Their arrest came after they garnered online support for political reform from more than 1,000 people, triggered by comments in March by outgoing premier Wen Jiabao.
Call for leniency
Xu's wife, Li Chun, who is about to give birth to the couple's child, called on the authorities to show her husband leniency in passing sentence.
Li said she was concerned for her husband's health, because he had appeared much thinner than normal at a recent meeting with his lawyer.
"I am about to have a baby and will check into the hospital next week ahead of the birth," she said. "Please, could you give him a lighter sentence, because my child will want to see his father."
She said her brother had been refused permission to visit Xu at the detention center on Monday.
"When the lawyer went to see him last week, he said he had let me down, and told me to take care of my health," Li said.
"I think he is having a really hard time in there, to have lost such a lot of weight," she said.
Meanwhile, the mother of Yin Weihe, who attended the trial, said she was also very concerned for her son, who had appeared in court with scars on his face.
"It looked as if he had been beaten up by the authorities," she said. "How could I not be worried?"
"Of course I'm very concerned."
The Hunan detentions were among a string of arrests nationwide of political activists who voiced public support for Wen's call for political reform.
Speaking at his last press conference at the end of the 10-day parliamentary sessions in Beijing, Wen warned that China could face a return to the revolutionary turmoil of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution in the absence of further political reform.
While he gave no concrete details of the political reforms he referred to, Wen, 69, who with China's president Hu Jintao is due to hand over power to the next generation of Chinese leaders later this year, said he was "seized by a strong sense of responsibility" to speak out.
Citing widespread official corruption, a widening gap between rich and poor, and weak public trust in the government, Wen warned of the "judgment of history," which would be visited on a government that fails to take steps in the right direction.
In April, police in Guangzhou criminally detained 22-year-old Huang Wenxun on suspicion of “illegal assembly” for his participation in a peaceful march on March 31.
Huang was detained a day after he marched with around 10 other people, holding up signs in Guangzhou’s city center, calling on officials to disclose their assets and to support Premier Wen Jiabao’s call for political reform.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.