Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Friday handed a six-year jail term to a prominent human rights activist and shorter sentences to two others, his lawyer said.
Yang Maodong, better known by his pseudonym Guo Feixiong, was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" at a hearing in the provincial capital Guangzhou along with two co-defendants on Friday.
Fellow activists Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng were also jailed by Guangzhou's Tianhe District People's Court for three and two-and-a-half years respectively.
The verdict comes a year after Guo and Sun stood trial at Guangzhou's on Nov. 28, 2014, and amid allegations of torture and degrading treatment from both men.
Guo's defense lawyer Zhang Lei told RFA that the prosecution had added the second charge against his client during the sentencing hearing, on the grounds that he had held up a placards calling on Beijing to ratify an international human rights covenant.
"We asked to make our defense, to make our argument, but they wouldn't allow it," Zhang said. "They wouldn't let us say anything at all, and cut me off pretty sharply."
"Ten minutes later, the hearing began, and they read out the verdict and sentence, then handed it to us."
Zhang said the defense wasn't informed of the additional charge against Guo beforehand.
"We had no idea about this ... now he will serve a total of six years for both crimes," he said.
"This is an extremely unjust decision, especially the way in which the court trampled due process by adding a charge today," he said. "It is totally unacceptable."
Zhang said Guo had shouted out in protest at his treatment while in police custody, where he has been held in solitary confinement in a dark cell and denied permission to exercise outdoors since August 2013, a situation his wife has said is a form of torture.
"He said the court guards put a black hood over his head and that the police deliberately made the manacles too tight, causing him heavy injuries to his hands," Zhang said.
"He demanded a medical examination of his injuries, but the judge paid no attention, just cut him off very rudely and read out the judgment."
"They didn't give him any opportunity to say anything; they just dragged him away," Zhang said.
Fellow rights activist Jia Pin said he hadn't been surprised by Guo's sentence, but expressed strong concern for his friend.
"Actually, I didn't think they give him as much as six years, because he already served jail time back in 2006," Jia said.
"He has been through a lot, and now he has a six-year sentence on top of it all," he said. "It was despicable of the court to ... add that charge to the charge sheet."
According to his wife Zhang Qing, now based in the United States, Guo has been held in cramped solitary confinement in the police-run Tianhe Detention Center since August 2013, and denied the opportunity to move around or to take exercise outdoors.
Health at risk
And Dublin-based rights group the Frontline Defenders, which this year presented Guo with an award, said in a recent statement that Guo is considered at risk because his "memory, speech, and mental awareness all showed signs of damage."
Guo's sister Yang Maoping said she is "extremely angry" at the verdict and sentence.
"The court was in breach of jucidial procedure by adding a fresh charge on the spur of the moment like that," Yang told RFA after the hearing.
"They are always talking about the rule of law, but actually they do the very opposite," Yang said. "We will definitely be appealing, even if it doesn't work."
"We will also stick to due legal process in doing so."
Liu Zhengqing, defense lawyer for co-defendant Liu Yuandong, said his client hadn't yet decided whether or not to appeal his sentence.
"It's hard to say anything right now; we will have to wait until I have met with my client next week," he said.
"An appeal is largely a symbolic gesture, anyway."
According to the indictment, the initial charge against Guo was based on his participation in anti-censorship demonstrations outside the cutting-edge Southern Weekend newspaper offices in Guangzhou in early 2013, where he held up a placard and made a speech in favor of press freedom.
In January 2013, activists, journalists and academics faced off with the authorities after the Southern Weekend newspaper was forced to change a New Year’s editorial calling for political reform into a tribute praising Communist Party rule.
Guo's placards called on officials to publicly disclose their assets, and for the Chinese government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998.
Sun was also accused of holding up placards and inciting crowds to disturb the order of a public place in "flash mob" activities.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.