A court in the central Chinese province of Hunan on Friday began hearing a second attempt at a compensation claim lodged by a prominent rights lawyer who says he was tortured during an 87-day secret detention at the hands of the authorities.
Cai Ying is suing the authorities over his treatment during his detention under "residential surveillance" on alleged charges of bribery, perjury and fraud, ordered by state prosecutors in his home city of Yuanjiang from July-October 2012.
Cai was released and the charges dropped after a letter he wrote about his ordeal found its way onto the Internet, and he received an official apology.
Now, he wants formal compensation from the government.
Cai is being represented by top Beijing rights lawyers Zhang Lei, who heads the Linzhenghan law firm, and colleague Li Fangping.
"We began the cross-examination. The main point of debate was around whether the case [against Cai] should have been brought in the first place, and the legality of that," Li said.
"We followed due process the whole way, and they couldn't reach a detailed legal opinion, and [the witnesses] refused to answer a lot of questions; they just avoided them."
He said Cai had also tendered new evidence in support of his claim that he was framed by the authorities in the first place.
"This is clear and direct evidence that he was framed by judicial authorities," Li said.
Cai, who was recently targeted during a nationwide police operation that detained more than 200 rights lawyers and denied permission to leave the country, said he was happy to have had the opportunity to present his claims in open court.
Cai told RFA: "This case isn't just about compensation; it's also about illegal detention and so-called residential surveillance, which in reality is extrajudicial detention."
He said "residential surveillance" has been repeatedly used against China's embattled legal profession during a crackdown that began with the detention of Beijing rights lawyer Wang Yu and her colleagues at the Fengrui law firm on the night of July 9-10.
"I think there were all sorts of issues with the way they managed my residential surveillance, and in the area of human rights protection," Cai said.
But at a previous hearing linked to the same lawsuit, prosecutors and judges removed 38 pages of evidence from the case files, prompting Cai and his legal team to lodge another lawsuit demanding that they return it.
"Regardless of the outcome, we have already got to the point where the evidence isn't looking good for them at all," Cai said. "It has become clear that their detention [of me] was illegal."
"There's no way they can cover that up now, but they are sticking to their position, because a dead pig isn't afraid of a boiling pot," he added.
He said the courtroom had been filled with officials of the People's Procuratorate at different levels, as well as with concerned rights groups and supporters of rights lawyers.
Hunan rights activist Ou Biaofeng said dozens of Cai's supporters applied to sit in the public area of the courtroom for the hearing.
"The court only issued 15 spectator permits, so a lot of people didn't have permits and they weren't allowed in," Ou said. "Everyone who did go in had to register twice with their ID card. There were also about 10 lawyers there."
A supporter surnamed Zhou said police had reacted "harshly" when photos and video were taken of police and court officials roughly handling Cai's backers.
"They were very harsh, and there were some scuffles, even fights," he said. "They demanded that anyone who had taken photos delete them immediately."
"Two people's photos were deleted."
Use of torture
China's parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) tried to rule out judicial use of torture with a revision to the country’s Criminal Procedure Law in 2012.
But a report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch last May said that the use of police torture and forced confessions is still widespread in Chinese law enforcement.
"Some police officers deliberately thwart the new protections by taking detainees from official detention facilities or use torture methods that leave no visible injuries," the group said in a report titled "Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses."
It accused procurators and judges of ignoring "clear evidence" of mistreatment, rendering the NPC's amendments useless, and said that a Chinese court has yet to acquit a defendant on the basis that they were tortured during the investigation.
Cai has described being questioned for long hours while restrained in a "tiger bench," which was suspended more than 1.2 meters (four feet) off the ground, with his hands cuffed onto a wooden board while his feet were left hanging, subjected to verbal abuse and threats, and deprived of sleep, food and water.
He has suffered numerous health problems since, including rectal bleeding, coronary heart disease, headaches, chronic back pain and numbness.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.