Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu on Wednesday detained a group of people who showed up to give evidence in the trial of an evictee who attacked a demolition gang, along with his two sons, his lawyers said.
Fan Mugen stands accused of "intentional wounding" which led to the deaths of two members of a forced demolition gang who allegedly attacked his family after they resisted eviction in late 2013.
Hundreds of police were deployed to guard the Suzhou Intermediate People's Court amid tight security that prevented Fan's supporters from getting to the court.
Fan allegedly attacked members of a demolition team with a knife after they arrived at his home in Jiangsu's provincial capital Suzhou on Dec. 3, 2013 and beat up his wife when the couple resisted eviction.
Two members of the team died, and six more were tried on Monday for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" at a district court in Suzhou in connection with the alleged attack on Fan's family members.
His lawyer Wang Yu told RFA after the trial was adjourned that Fan had acted under huge stress, and said he had never intended to hurt anyone.
"Fan Mugen clearly acted to protect his home and family, and he was forced into doing so against his will," Wang said. "Actually, he never intended to hurt anyone, nor did he have the wherewithal to do so."
Chinese authorities have previously charged suspects who kill someone with "intentional wounding" rather than homicide in cases where there is strong provocation, such as an attack on a loved one.
Fan's case is politically sensitive, as it comes amid simmering public anger over the use of violent forced evictions, often with no warning or due process, by local governments to reclaim land for lucrative redevelopment or speculation.
Fan's defense attorney Lin Qilei said the authorities deployed riot police and hired private security guards to police the trial, and that Fan's two sons were detained by police after the trial adjourned on Wednesday.
"Right now we're at the Canglang police station which comes under the Gufen police district of Suzhou city," Lin said, adding that he was there to inquire after Fan's two sons.
"Fan Mugen's two sons were brought to this police station, and we heard that the younger one was beaten up, so that he can't hear properly," he said.
Lin said police had also detained witnesses for the defense after they showed up at court to give evidence.
"Our lawyers brought in a number of witnesses; more than a dozen people, who were registered, and their IDs checked," Lin said. "Then the witnesses were all taken down to the police station."
He said police had also prevented a number of Fan's relatives and well-wishers from sitting in the spectators' gallery.
"There were some supporters ... and the police took them off somewhere, and basically tricked them and sent them to the wrong place, before taking them down to the police station as well," Lin said.
Litany of abuses
Wang Yu had earlier tweeted to social media that the trial was a litany of procedural abuses, including the heckling of defense lawyers every time they tried to speak in Fan's defense, and the refusal to allow witnesses to give evidence.
"There were people seated in the spectators' gallery who shouted out at defense lawyers every time they spoke, and the presiding judge turned a blind eye and allowed it to go unchecked," Wang wrote.
Online activists had earlier hired two buses to travel from the eastern city of Nanjing to Suzhou to support Fan, but the bus driver refused to take them after receiving a police summons, the rights website Weiquanwang reported on Wednesday.
The trial continues on Thursday.
The requisitioning of land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, as well as frequent suicide protests by those forcibly evicted from their homes, rights groups say.
Many evictions result in the beating, further harassment, and detention of anyone who resists or complains, while the government's complaints system is overwhelmed by applications from evictees for redress, official figures show.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.