The case of jailed human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been erased from the computer system of a higher court ahead of his appeal, RFA has learned.
Wang was handed a four-and-a-half year jail term on Jan. 28 by the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, which found him guilty of "subversion of state power."
The verdict and sentence followed repeated delays, resulting in Wang being held in pretrial detention for more than three years with no access to a lawyer or family visits.
Wang's lawyer Lin Qilei said his client had been intending to appeal his sentence at the Tianjin Higher People's Court, but when Lin, Wang's wife Li Wenzu and fellow rights activist Wang Qiaoling went there on Monday, they were told that there was no record of his case on the court's computer system.
"The fact that there is no record of Wang Quanzhang's case at the Tianjin Higher People's Court means that there is no appeal," Lin said via social media at the time.
"Another possibility is that the Tianjin high court is deliberately hiding the process of Wang Quanzhang's appeal through the court, so as to deny to his family and lawyer the right to know what is going on," he said.
"They are continuing to deal with Wang Quanzhang in the manner of a secret, and illegal, trial."
U.S.-based legal scholar Chen Guangcheng said the loss of Wang's case files was "unacceptable."
"Regardless of whether Wang was planning to appeal or not, the Chinese Communist Party can't go losing his details; that's just common sense," Chen said.
"Wang has been persecuted by them for so many years now. There has been so much international concern for his case, and now the Tianjin high court just can't find them?"
"This is inexplicable, whichever way you look at it," he said.
Chinese rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang agreed.
"If Lin Qilei is the appointed lawyer for the appeal of this case, then he naturally should be able to view the case files," Pu said. "What's not clear is whether the judgment on Wang Quanzhang, or his appeal, have taken effect or not."
"The defendant has the right to appoint a lawyer to oversee the appeal process," he said. "Wang Quanzhang's case hasn't been carried out according to due process ... I have a lot of admiration for Lin Qilei."
Concerns over torture
Rights groups say there are concerns that Wang may have been subjected to torture or other mistreatment in detention, as he was detained incommunicado for such a long period of time, and that this may be the reason behind officials' insistence on secrecy.
During that time, the authorities failed to provide a proper account of Wang’s prolonged detention to the public, including Wang’s family and family-appointed defense lawyers, Li and rights groups have said.
The trial was held on Dec. 26 behind closed doors, with officials claiming that state secrets were involved in the case.
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network has cited reports that Wang was tortured with electric shocks during interrogations.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.