A Guangzhou-based rights activist who was tried last year on public order charges in the southern Chinese city, has been subjected to torture and mistreatment while in police detention, prompting him to refuse food in protest, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Sun Sihuo, better known as Sun Desheng, stood trial in Guangzhou's Tianhe District People's Court on Nov. 28 for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" alongside fellow activist Yang Maodong, better known by his pseudonym Guo Feixiong.
The two men have been held in police detention since 2013, after taking part in street protests for press freedom and calling for greater government transparency and protection for human rights. The court hasn't yet announced a verdict or sentence.
Sun's lawyer Chen Jinxue said Sun was "tortured and mistreated" during disciplinary procedures at the Tianhe District Detention Center, but was denied permission to complain about his treatment to the center's director.
"His situation is pretty dire," Chen told RFA on Wednesday. "They smashed his head against a wall, causing head injuries."
"He wanted to complain to the state prosecution office, but they wouldn’t let him meet with them," he said.
Sun had repeatedly refused food in protest at the denial of this meeting, but to no avail, Chen added.
"He is also suffering the effects of wearing manacles on hands and legs for 15 days straight," he said.
Chen said the authorities have confiscated all of Sun's belongings except for light clothing and a blanket.
"The winters are cold and damp, but they won't allow his family to deliver new clothing to him," Chen said. "His arthritis has gotten pretty serious as a result, and he has problems standing."
The authorities should have issued a verdict by mid-December, according to China's criminal procedure laws, but none has been forthcoming, Chen said.
"Maybe they haven't decided what sentence to hand down yet, or it's possible that they are waiting for a suitable time to pass sentence, so as to minimize the amount of attention drawn to the case," he said.
"It is likely the verdict will be handed down around the Chinese New Year when everyone is busy with the celebrations and won't pay as much attention," he said, referring to the annual holiday which falls this year on Feb. 19.
A second member of Sun and Guo's defense team, Chen Yixuan, said such delays are only permissible with the approval of a higher court.
"In sensitive cases like this one, that is the procedure they are likely to follow," he said. "But sometimes they use the pretext of approval of procedure to enter into discussions on the material facts of the trial, which isn't allowed, because this renders any appeal meaningless."
"That way, miscarriages of justice [can't be challenged]," Chen Yixuan said.
According to the indictment, the 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.
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, it said.
The indictment also accused Guo of organizing others, including Sun, to post online photos of themselves engaged in similar peaceful expression in eight other Chinese cities.
But it gave no details of how their actions had affected public order.
Both Guo and Sun pleaded not guilty to the charges, but they and their defense attorneys were repeatedly cut off by judges when they tried to speak in their own defense during the trial.
Lawyers say Guo has been denied access to outside exercise during his nearly 500 days in police detention.
In early 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.
Meanwhile, the subversion case against Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling has been referred back to police for further investigation, his wife told RFA.
Tang's wife Wang Yanfang said the Guangzhou municipal procuratorate had informed her husband's attorney of the move on Jan. 4.
"Naturally, everyone in the family is thinking the same thing; if they have to send it back for further investigation, then perhaps there's not enough evidence, and they will release him," Wang said. "That is our hope."
But she said it is also possible that the authorities are simply stalling for time.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.