Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have placed a number of rights activists under surveillance, issuing warnings not to try to attend the continued subversion trial of the "Guangzhou Three" activists later this week, activists and lawyers said on Wednesday.
Rights lawyer Tang Jingling, former teacher Wang Qingying, and writer-activist Yuan Xinting, known as the Guangzhou Three, initially stood trial on June 19 at the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court for "incitement to subvert state power" after being held in a police detention center for more than a year.
But court officials called off the trial after the three men dismissed their defense team amid a procedural dispute with court officials, who refused to let them call witnesses.
The trial will resume at the same court on Thursday and Friday, lawyers told RFA.
Since then, Wang Qingying's former defense attorney Sui Muqing has himself been detained in a nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers, and is himself facing charges of "incitement to subvert state power."
Fellow defense team members Zhang Xuezhong and Liu Zhangqing have also been summoned for questioning by local police, according to Guangzhou-based rights activist Jia Pin, who said any potential supporters of the Guangzhou Three are also being targeted by the authorities.
"I was sent outside the province more than a week ago by Guangzhou police, and I just got off the train from Hunan in Guangzhou today, and I am planning to go to attend the trial tomorrow," Jia said.
"A lot of our Guangzhou friends have been sent on forced vacations, and some have been kicked out of the city, including Li Weiguo and Liao Jianhao," he said.
Friends warned off trial
He said friends and supporters of the Guangzhou Three living elsewhere in China had also been warned off trying to attend the trial.
"There are some friends outside the province who have received clear warnings, such as He Jiawei in Hunan ... not to try to travel to support Tang Jingling and the others, nor to try to attend the trial in Guangzhou," Jia said.
Guangzhou-based author Xu Lin said he has been under surveillance by police in his hometown of Changsha since he made a trip to Guangzhou to visit relatives a few days ago.
"Since I got back, they have sent people to keep watch at the door to my building," Xu told RFA. "Yesterday, they sent two people who followed me around all day long."
"They are afraid that people will try to attend the trial of Tang Jingling and the others," he said.
The Guangzhou Three trial is highly politically sensitive for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and security has been tight in the run-up to the continued trial hearing, Jia said.
"Things get very tense around these political cases, especially recently, when there has been a huge amount of oppression, with the detentions of a lot of lawyers," he said.
"It's much worse than it was before, and there are even more special measures in place for such trials."
Tang's defense attorney Ge Yongxi said his client is fairly optimistic and confident ahead of the renewed trial, however.
"He has great confidence in the fact that nothing he did amounted to a crime," Ge said after a meeting with Tang in the detention center.
"Everything he did was just and in the public interest ... so what verdict the authorities come up with is really their business," he said.
245 are detained
China's relentless crackdown on rights attorneys and their associates comes amid a further tightening of controls on civil society since the beginning of the year.
By 6.00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, the authorities had detained or questioned at least 245 people in a nationwide operation that began with a July 10 raid on the Beijing-based law firm Fengrui and the detention of a number of its staff.
A total of 12 lawyers and two non-lawyers are being held under criminal detention or residential surveillance at secret locations, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said in a statement on its website.
Seven people have "disappeared" since the crackdown begun, while many of those detained are being held in secret locations.
Authorities in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing on Wednesday detained lawyer Tang Tianhao for a second time, taking him to the police station at around 10.00 a.m. local time, the CHRLCG said.
Meanwhile, a court in the northeastern Chinese city of Jilin heard how citizen journalist and rights advocate Wang Jing had been tortured in detention as police forced a "confession" from her.
Wang Jing, who is being tried for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," said she was forced into confessing through the use of beatings, cold water, restraints and sleep deprivation.
Sichuan-based rights activist Yang Xiuqiong said Wang was unable to stand in the dock on Wednesday.
"Wang Jing's health is very poor; she has a brain tumor," Yang said. "She couldn't even stand up properly, but had to support herself on her hands."
"She was even in manacles and leg-irons during the trial, and said she hadn't been given any food for several days, and that they wouldn't let her sleep or drink water," Yang said, adding: "When she was in the detention center, they poured cold water all over her, forced her to wear manacles, and gagged her."
Wang Jing's lawyer Li Jinglin said he had rejected the evidence presented by the prosecution against his client.
"We have ample evidence to show that Wang Jing is innocent," Li said.
Wang Jing, who was also detained in April 2014 after reporting on a self-immolation incident on Tiananmen Square, has been in police detention in the northeastern province of Jilin since January.
Her lawyers say she has only ever peacefully assisted other petitioners with their complaints against the government.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.