A prominent rights lawyer on the defense team of detained Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti has withdrawn from the case following intense pressure from her law firm.
Wang Yu was one of the team defending Tohti, who was formally charged with separatism this week, but her law firm withdrew from the case following intense political pressure from authorities in Beijing, beginning in late June, she said.
Wang and and another lawyer, Li Fangping, were allowed to meet Tohti in June for the first time since his detention.
"After I got back from meeting with Tohti, my firm kept calling me in for meetings," Wang told RFA on Friday. "They admitted they were coming under pressure."
"I heard that the justice bureau kept seeking out members of the law firm and harassing them, and investigating our law firm," she said.
"My boss made this decision because he was very worried."
Wang said she had tried on a number of occasions to persuade the head of the firm to change his mind, but to no effect.
"If my law firm doesn't support me [in taking the case], they won't give me a letter of introduction so as to meet with my client," she said. "The letter must bear the seal of the law firm."
"I can't produce these documents, so I am left in a situation where I can no longer represent [Tohti]."
Second lawyer presses on
Rights lawyer Li Fangping, Tohti's other defense lawyer, said he planned to continue in the role, however.
"First, I need to meet with the family, which will be on [Saturday]," Li said, but declined to comment further.
Li had earlier said in a tweet on the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo that the state prosecutors in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi had refused to collaborate fully with him.
"They haven't responded to a number of legal requests for copies of interviews with Tohti, nor have they listened to the lawyers' opinions," he wrote on Wednesday.
"It is shocking that they have so little respect for a right to a legal defense," Li wrote.
Repeated calls to Tohti's Beijing-based wife Guzelnur rang unanswered on Friday.
Ilham Tohti was officially charged in a Xinjiang court Wednesday with inciting separatism.
The announcement on his indictment at the Xinjiang regional capital's Urumqi Intermediate People's Court was made in a brief online statement by prosecutors, who had filed documents to back their case at the court without his or his lawyer's presence.
The indictment came as dozens of Muslim Uyghurs, who call Xinjiang their homeland, were shot dead in fresh unrest in the region this week.
Tohti, who has flatly rejected the charges of separatism, which can result in the death penalty, was dragged away from his home in the Chinese capital Beijing by dozens of police on Jan. 15, and formally arrested about a month later.
Human rights groups have said that Tohti's detention was part of Beijing's broad strategy to drown the voices of the Uyghurs, who say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.