Authorities in the Chinese capital have released Qu Zhenhong, niece and former defense attorney of jailed rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, on "bail," her lawyers said.
Qu was initially held in May 2014 under criminal detention on suspicion of "illegally gathering citizens' information," after she agreed to represent Pu, who was indicted for "incitement to racial hatred" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" last week.
While Pu's case now looks set to proceed to trial, Qu has been released on "bail," defense attorney Mo Shaoping told RFA on Tuesday.
"From Qu Zhenhong's point of view, she is currently only released on bail, but the case against her hasn't been dropped," Mo said.
"The prosecution service won't stop investigating her during her bail period, and if they still think the charge against her will stand up, they could indict her and take it to court," he said.
Fellow defense attorney Shang Baojun, who is also defending Pu, welcomed Qu's release, however.
"However you look at it, we welcome Qu Zhenhong's release on bail," Shang said. "Especially from Pu Zhiqiang's point of view, as she is his niece."
"The fact that Qu Zhenhong is no longer in a horrible jail cell will be a great source of psychological comfort to him," he said. "From that point of view, it will be good for Pu's case."
However, a congratulatory tweet sent by fellow rights lawyer Ge Yongxi was deleted from the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo soon after it was posted on Monday.
Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said Qu has been released on a technicality, because the same charge had been dropped against Pu, with whom she was to have shared a trial.
"Now that the procuratorate isn't charging Pu Zhiqiang with this crime, they won't charge Qu Zhenhong either," Liu said.
"I'm sure it's because they don't have any evidence, or not enough evidence ... a serious lack of evidence that is insufficient to charge her with," he added.
However, Qu's release apparently doesn't signal a more tolerant era for China's embattled legal profession, particularly for those who help disadvantaged groups stand up for their rights in the face of
Qu's release came as a lawyer representing the mother of Xu Chunhe, a 45-year-old man shot dead by police at a railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, lay in hospital with a broken leg after being beaten by an unidentified "mob."
Iron bars and knives
Lawyer Xie Yang was set upon by a gang wielding iron bars and knives in the southwestern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region earlier this week after a face-off with Xie and his client, surnamed Lin, fellow lawyer Tan Yongpei told RFA.
"We called the police, who came, said a few words and then left without detaining anyone," Tan said.
"Less than 20 minutes later, they started in, beating up our client, and they beat up lawyer Xie Yang, knocking him to the ground and blocking off the exits," he said.
"They wouldn't allow the ambulance to get in ... to take Xie Yang to hospital."
Eventually, Xie and Lin were taken to hospital for treatment for their injuries, he said, adding that the attack appeared to be linked to Xie's representation of Lin over her rental income from an indoor market, rather than the Heilongjiang case.
"I think they had bought off the Jiangnan sub-district of the Nanning municipal police department," Tan said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Wuyi police station under the Jiangnan sub-district declined to comment.
"If you have questions you can come here yourself to the office," the officer said. "I have no way of knowing who I'm talking to on the phone."
Xu Chunhe was shot dead by a police officer at the Qing'an Railway Station in Heilongjiang's Suihua city on May 2, and three police officers are on trial this week in connection with his death.
In April, hundreds of lawyers and rights activists called for an independent investigation into the alleged beating of Beijing-based lawyer Cui Hui by court officials in the Chinese capital.
Cui, 51, says she was attacked by judges and bailiffs at the Tongzhou District People's Court on the outskirts of Beijing on April 2 after she went to enquire after a case that should have been resolved two years earlier.
Rights groups said the assault on Cui followed a pattern of increased violence against Chinese human rights attorneys, which reached its highest level so far in 2014.
Authorities in the Chinese capital indicted Pu last Friday on charges of "incitement to racial hatred," and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a year after his detention following an event marking the anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement.
Previous charges, including "incitement to subvert state power," "incitement to separatism," and "illegally obtaining citizens' information" were dropped.
Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wei Ling and Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.