Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan are preparing to try human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong for subversion on Tuesday, Hong Kong media reported.
Jiang will stand trial for "incitement to subvert state power" at the Intermediate People's Court in the provincial capital Changsha, the Chinese-language Ming Pao nespaper said in a report at the weekend.
An official who answered the phone at the Lingshan police station in Hunan's Luoshan county, where Jiang's elderly parents live, confirmed that the case is being handled by the state security police at a more senior level.
"We received a notification from a higher-ranking department [on Friday]," the officer said. "We are following their orders, and they are just using our local premises."
"When they are done, they will leave, so we don't really know about it."
Jiang, a prominent human rights lawyer, was detained last November and was formally arrested on May 31 on suspicion of "subversion of state power." He is currently being held in the Changsha No. 1 Detention Center.
He has been denied access to lawyers hired by his family to defend him, and his relatives fear he has been subjected to torture while in detention.
Hunan activist Ou Biaofeng, who is a close friend of Jiang's, echoed the Ming Pao report in a social media tweet on Sunday.
"The Zhuzhou state security police took me out for a meal today," Ou wrote. "Jiang Tianyong's trial has been set for Aug. 22, and they took me out of town on a 'vacation' this afternoon."
"They want to stop me from attending Jiang's trial at the Changsha Intermediate People's Court. They will be bringing me home on [Tuesday] afternoon," he said.
Calls to Ou's cell phone rang unanswered following the tweet.
No official notice given
Jiang's U.S.-based wife Jin Bianling said there has been no official notice of the trial on the Changsha Intermediate People's Court website, nor any official notification of his relatives.
"The handling of Jiang Tianyong's case is entirely in line with that of other lawyers in the July 2015 crackdown," Jin told RFA. "The most ridiculous thing of all is that the family members and lawyers have had no information whatsoever about the progress of this case."
"We have to find out about this via the media, and then we will have to sit through a show trial staged by government-appointed lawyers," she said.
"I firmly believe that Jiang Tianyong is innocent, even if they force him to plead guilty in court," she said. "I also believe that he would have 'confessed' only in the face of unbearable torture."
Jin said Jiang's parents and sister have been incommunicado for some time, and are presumed to be under close surveillance at all times.
And a Hunan-based activist who asked to remain anonymous said he has been placed under house arrest to prevent him from showing up at the court on Tuesday to support Jiang.
"The state security police brigade leader called me several times [on Sunday], and now I'm under house arrest here at home," the activist said. "They won't allow me to travel to Hengyang or Changsha."
'In a hurry to wind up'
Jiang's lawyer Lin Qilei said he was surprised at the relative speed with which Jiang's case has come to trial.
"I think Jiang Tianyong's case is probably heading in a positive direction, because the government are in a hurry to wind up the last of the July 2015 lawyer cases, and are keen to hand out much more lenient sentences in return for a 'confession'," Lin told RFA.
He said the government is likely anxious to deal with any high-profile dissidents before a major political meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, expected in October.
"I think we may see a desirable outcome, especially as President Xi Jinping is getting ready for the 19th Party Congress," Lin said.
More than 300 human rights lawyers, law firm staff, and associated activists were detained, questioned, placed under surveillance or travel bans, or had their immediate loved ones targeted by police, according to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG).
Jiang was detained after visiting the family of detained Changsha rights lawyer Xie Yang, who has also reported being tortured in prison.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.