Authorities in the northern Chinese province of Henan have handed a death sentence to one petitioner and a three-year jail-term to his wife on public order charges after the death of a police officer while they were in his custody.
Veteran activists Zhang Xiaoyu and Xu Youchen were initially both detained on suspicion of killing a police officer on July 17, 2014 as they were being escorted home from Beijing to prevent them from complaining about the local government.
The couple were both formally charged with intentional homicide on Aug. 2, but Zhang Xiaoyu's charges were later changed to "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
Xu was sentenced to death for the killing of a police officer on Dec. 12 by the Sanmenxia Intermediate People's Court in Henan, and is now preparing his appeal, his lawyer said.
Zhang was sentenced to three years' imprisonment after being found guilty by the Wuzhi County People's Court in Henan on the same day as Xu, her lawyer and brother told RFA on Friday.
"They found her guilty of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble, basically because of her petitioning," Zhang's brother said.
"That's how local governments crack down on people [who complain about them]."
Zhang's lawyer Chang Boyang said he disagreed with the verdict and the sentence.
"We argued that she is not guilty," Chang told RFA. "All she did was lodge complaints and petitions. That doesn't amount to a crime."
He said Zhang's health is now very poor following her long incarceration in a police-run detention center.
"She hasn't entirely lost her vision for now ... but her health has been very badly affected," Chang said. "She is trying to battle on through, and her mood isn't too bad, and she remains very determined."
On arrival back in their hometown of Jiaozuo in Henan province, Xu and Zhang were severely beaten during detention, according to an urgent action statement released by Amnesty International at the time.
Zhang Xiaoyu nearly lost her eyesight as a result of the beating, while Xu Youchen had serious injuries to his face, the group said.
Xu's lawyer Liu Jinbin said his client had admitted intending to injure the police officer, but that the court had failed to prove that he intended to kill the man.
"He has admitted to intentional injury and apologized to the family of the deceased, so we think the court should take his attitude into account, as well as the mistakes made by the government in the handling of his case," Liu said.
"Overall, we think the court should take this into account, and also current policy to limit the death penalty, and issue a suspended death sentence," he said.
Rights groups have also cited procedural irregularities with the handling of the policeman's death.
Authorities cremated the body of the policeman allegedly killed by the couple just four days after he died, making it impossible to re-examine the exact time and cause of death, Amnesty International reported.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.