A Chinese citizen journalist who meticulously recorded details of public protests and other 'mass incidents' stood trial on Friday at a court in the southwestern province of Yunnan on public order charges, sources said.
Lu Yuyu, who founded the blog "Not the News," was detained alongside his girlfriend Li Tingyu on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" by police in Yunnan's mountain resort of Dali in June 2016.
Lu, who recently refused food and water in protest at alleged mistreatment in a police-run detention center, stands accused of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," in connection with his work publicizing protests in China.
But rights activist Huang Yongxiang, who has previously been in contact with Li Tingyu's family, said he is unlikely to get a fair trial.
"These sorts of trials are really just for show," Huang said. "Neither of them has committed any crime; it's just a form of political persecution."
"All he did was compile data that was already in the public domain. Where's the crime in that?"
Beijing-based rights activist Wang Lihong said Lu's friends and supporters are currently under house arrest and close surveillance by China's state security police, and his lawyers have been warned not to speak to the media.
"Security wasn't too tight; there weren't too many police outside the court buildings, and there weren't any rights activists there supporting him," she said. "Nobody was sitting in the public gallery, either."
"But some of Lu Yuyu's friends are now under house arrest, so they were unable to attend the trial," Wang said. "They arranged this over the phone, talking about when to set out, and of course they were being monitored."
"Some are being kept home under surveillance, others in their place of work," she said. "Lu Yuyu has maintained his innocence all along, and refused to 'confess'."
'Not the News'
She said the data compiled by Lu all came from three reliable and expert sources, and was all "totally factual."
Lu's trial comes after Li Tingyu was tried in secret by the Dali People's Court on April 20, according to her lawyer Ge Yongxi. There has been no announcement regarding her fate since.
Li was detained at the same time as her boyfriend Lu Yuyu, who ran the blog under the social media handle @wickedonnaa, but her case is being dealt with separately from his, and Ge has said he hopes she may be handed a suspended jail term in return for a "confession."
But he said he has little cause for optimism in Lu's case.
"It's hard to be optimistic about this case, under the current [political] climate in China," he said on Friday. "If the defendant won't confess, then the judge will definitely find him guilty."
While China's courts almost always convict defendants, they will sometimes release first-time political prisoners who agree to "admit their crimes" on suspended sentences, which often results in a form of house arrest under police surveillance.
A former migrant worker, Lu called his online operation "Not the News," in an ironic nod to the widespread censorship of "sensitive" stories of mass protests by the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the media outlets under its control.
In 2016, Lu compiled details of more than 30,000 "mass incidents" not widely reported in China.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.