An international group of lawyers and judges on Tuesday called on Beijing to release human rights lawyer Xie Yang, who was detained during a nationwide crackdown on the legal profession beginning in July 2015, and whose trial at a court in the central province of Hunan was called off last month.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on the Chinese government to release Xie, who has reported torture during his incarceration.
"Xie Yang’s arrest and prosecution seem to be in connection with his performing legitimate professional functions as a human rights lawyer," ICJ secretary general Sam Zarifi said in a statement on the group's website.
"No lawyer should ever be subject to persecution for carrying out their professional duties," Zarifi said. "Lawyers in China like Xie Yang are indispensable in ensuring human rights protection and upholding the rule of law in China."
"The government should release Xie Yang immediately and conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation on the allegations that he has been subjected to torture," he said.
The ICJ said Xie has been unable to communicate with his lawyers since he gave them his account of his torture at the hands of police, and is now represented by a government-appointed lawyer.
In the absence of evidence that he has committed a recognizable crime compatible with international human rights law, Xie should be immediately released, it said.
The group called on the government to bring to justice "any persons found to be responsible for the torture of Xie Yang."
It said no statements made under torture or ill treatment should be admitted as evidence at any trial.
Xie's wife Chen Guiqiu, who is currently in the United States, said the government lawyer is colluding with police, and can't be trusted to provide a proper defense for her husband.
She also accused the authorities of breaking a previous promise to release Xie soon.
"They told me before that he would be released around the end of April, and that he'd probably have some restrictions on his freedom for a few days after that," Chen told RFA. "The conditions attached to this were that we should stop speaking out."
"Back then, I was still holding onto that illusion [so I didn't give media interviews], but now they still haven't released him, so I think that they were just playing for time and fobbing me off," she said.
Full video ‘confession’
A source close to the authorities told RFA that the promise had been linked to Xie's making a full video "confession."
The offer had been made soon after the allegations of Xie's torture had been published, the source said.
Fellow rights lawyer Wen Donghai said it was unacceptable for the authorities to force Xie to "confess" in such a way.
"From the family's point of view, they are not going to accept this, but the authorities set a huge amount of store by it," Wen said. "It's really a bad way of doing things."
"It's becoming increasingly clear that this whole crackdown on lawyers has been really damaging, and there have been repercussions," he said.
"There was never any law in the July 2015 crackdown cases, and now they are trying to make it look better," he said.
Meanwhile, a resident of southern China's Guangdong province said he has been fired from his job after he traveled to Changsha to show support for Xie ahead of the canceled trial on April 25.
Bu Yongzhu said he was sacked without notice from the company where he has worked for seven years.
"They told me I was fired on the spot, and that I couldn't stay in the company dorm anymore," Bu told RFA on Monday.
"It is very hard for me to accept this reality, but there is no law to speak of," he said. "This is ruthless persecution."
Bu said his bosses had denied any link between his trip to Changsha and his firing.
"I think it is pretty obvious, because it's not just this court case," Bu said. "I went to show support when [China's Gandhi] Tang Jingling, [rights lawyer] Guo Feixiong [and others] were tried in Guangzhou," he said.
"They also had a talk with me about those times, too," he said, adding that he plans to seek arbitration from the government's labor bureau.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.