A Chinese attorney representing rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado without trial since 2015, has withdrawn from the case, citing injuries sustained in a "fall."
Liu Weiguo, who was officially approved to represent Wang in June, is no longer able to speak easily after losing three teeth in a "fall during exercise," Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said via his Twitter account, citing Wang's wife Li Wenzu.
Liu had been the only person to report having met with Wang since his detention.
Li Wenzu confirmed to RFA that she originally tweeted the news, but declined to speculate on whether Liu's injuries were genuine, or whether he had met with some form of violence.
"Sorry, there isn't much more I can tell you about Liu Weiguo's situation," Li said. "I have nothing further to add."
"It's a bit pointless for people to try guessing about this, because we have no idea what the government is planning, or when they are planning to deal with this case," she said.
Li said she hadn't appointed Liu as her husband's lawyer, and that she would continue to push for those lawyers to represent him.
"They are continuing to carry out their instructions," she said.
Reputation at stake
Three years after police launched a nationwide crackdown, raided law firms, and detained hundreds of lawyers and activists, China's embattled human rights lawyers are increasingly left without any way of practicing law.
Tan Yongpei, who founded the China Lawyers' Club for lawyers who lost their licenses to operate in the wake of a nationwide crackdown since 2015, said Liu likely withdrew for fear of damage to his professional reputation.
"If Liu Weiguo was allowed to appear in court and negotiate a suspended sentence and a release for Wang Quanzhang, then that wouldn't reflect well on him," Tan said. "But if no concessions are made at all, then the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party won't release Wang Quanzhang."
"If you refuse to cooperate with the court, then they won't let you act for your client," he said. "Even if Liu Weiguo was able to benefit Wang Quanzhang by appearing in court, it would sully his own reputation."
Rights lawyer Li Heping, who was also detained during the crackdown on more than 300 lawyers and law firm staff, was handed a three-year jail term, suspended for four years, and had his lawyer's business license revoked by the authorities in June.
Tan said Wang is unlikely to supply the "confession" required by the authorities to enable a suspended sentence.
"I don't think Wang Quanzhang's personality will let him accept a suspended sentence," Tan said. "The moment that happens, his wife will lose her job, and he has a few kids, and it will be hard for him to earn a living if he can't work as a lawyer."
"If he pleads guilty, he won't be able to work as a lawyer again, and Wang Quanzhang has done nothing wrong; there is nothing in his actions that crossed the line into criminality," Tan said.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.