A prominent human rights lawyer who penned an open letter to the leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party calling for an amnesty for political prisoners and democratic reforms has been detained following scuffles at a hearing that could strip him of his license to practice.
Xie Yanyi, who was among hundreds of lawyers and associated rights activists detained during a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession since July 2015, attended a hearing of the Beijing municipal branch of the China Lawyers' Association on Wednesday.
Xie stands accused of "disciplinary violations" by the government-backed regulatory body, which has stripped a number of prominent rights lawyers of their livelihood in recent months.
"The hearing went fairly smoothly, in the sense that it allowed everyone to speak, but I don't think it should ever have been convened in the first place, because there was no substantive evidence," Xie's lawyer Wen Donghai told RFA.
"Neither was any evidence produced to substantiate the alleged material facts of the case," Wen said. "There is a growing tendency nowadays to start investigating lawyers at the drop of a hat."
Wen said such politically charged investigations were out of keeping with the role of the China Lawyers' Association's role as a professional body.
"They should be working to protect lawyers' right to practice, not punishing them," he said.
Xie has previously said that he wrote to President Xi Jinping and other members of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee because he believes a democratic future is the only viable one for China.
Earlier this month, Wen was also informed by the justice department of the Hunan provincial government that he will be stripped of his license.
Wen said he had requested a hearing similar to Xie's but doesn't expect to overturn the decision, as he has previously represented members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been designated an "evil cult" by Beijing.
"It's a waste of time, basically; they are going through the motions, and they have no regard for the law," he said. "They just do whatever they want, and there's nothing we can do to stop them; it's pretty much a fait accompli."
Xie's hearing drew dozens of supporters to the headquarters of the Beijing Lawyers' Association, although nobody was allowed to audit proceedings.
Supporter Li Yanjun said no reason was given.
"I asked them why [we couldn't go in], but they couldn't give me a reason," Li told RFA. "One of their department heads was standing in the doorway stopping people from going in, as well."
He said police had also detained Xie Yanyi following an altercation after police tried to snatch journalists' press cards away from them, during which a reporter from Hong Kong's Now TV was beaten up and detained.
"Xie Yanyi snatched the press cards right back [from police], and that's why he was detained," Li said. "We were waiting for him to come out after the hearing was over ... but then they said he had been taken away."
Xie's wife Yuan Shanshan was also detained at the hearing, and taken to the Hepingli police station, according to her lawyer Sui Muqing.
"The police produced a piece of paper and said she was being called in for questioning," Sui told RFA. "But when Yuan Shanshan went over their to read it, they wouldn't let her."
"There was a slight scuffle, and then Yuan Shanshan was taken away."
The New York City Bar Association has said the July 2015 crackdown amounts to nothing less than a "war on law."
Detained lawyers have reported being humiliated, subjected to lengthy interrogation sessions and physical torture, including sleep deprivation, beatings, electric shocks, and forced medication, as well as months of solitary confinement, the group said in July.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.