Authorities in southwestern China's Sichuan province have prevented the defense attorney of a prominent rights activist held on state secrets charges from reading the case files, following multiple delays to his case.
Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, was formally arrested by the state prosecution office in the provincial capital Chengdu in December 2016 on charges of "illegally supplying state secrets overseas."
Huang, 54, is being held in the police-run Mianyang Detention Center after the state prosecutor sent the case back to police for "further investigation" after finding insufficient evidence to proceed to trial, his lawyer Sui Muqing told RFA.
Now, the police investigation is complete, the case is once more with the prosecution, but lawyers have been prevented from viewing the case files, Sui said.
"The Mianyang state prosecution have refused lawyers permission on two occasions to view the files, using the same excuse in each case," Sui said. "This amounts to illegal obstruction of an attorney's viewing of the case files, and it is disgraceful."
Sui said the case itself is "extremely simple," but that the authorities aren't allowing due process in Huang's case.
The move comes amid a widening security crackdown on all forms of dissent across China, as the ruling party gears up for a five-yearly congress next week.
Sui said Huang's 83-year-old mother Pu Wenqing, who was hospitalized in December around the time of her son's arrest, is "extremely worried" about his fate.
"She wants the lawyers to be able to view the case files as soon as possible, so we can put in a legal opinion with the relevant departments at an early stage," Sui said.
Yuan Ying, a former volunteer at Tianwang, said that another member of Huang's defense team, Li Jinglin, had booked an appointment to view the files on Thursday.
"But then the prosecution service called Li Jinglin to tell him that the procuratorate officials had traveled to Chengdu to discuss Huang Qi's case," Yuan said. "They wouldn't let Li Jinglin view the files."
"They made an excuse the last time, too," she said. "When Huang's mother heard this, she got so agitated, she started to cry."
Huang was detained and his home raided by police officers from the provincial capital Chengdu and the earthquake-hit regions of Neijiang and Mianyang.
He had already served a sentence of three years in prison from November 2011 after launching an investigation into shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of deaths during a massive 2008 earthquake.
Meanwhile, defense lawyers in the northern port city of Tianjin were once more denied permission to meet with prominent civil rights activist Wu Gan, known by his online nickname "The Butcher."
Wu, 43, is believed to have stood trial behind closed doors in August on charges of subversion.
But prominent rights lawyer Ge Yongxiu was denied permission to visit him in the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center this week.
"A lot of people are worried about him," Ge said. "I knew that they would find any excuse to prevent me from meeting with him."
He said it is unclear what will happen to Wu now that he has apparently been tried, but not yet sentenced.
"I don't know exactly what they are planning to do," Ge said. "All you need to know is that any reasons they give are ridiculous."
Initially detained in the eastern province of Jiangxi in 2015 and handed a 10-day administrative sentence, Wu was later placed under criminal detention on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," "libel," and "incitement to subvert state power."
Wu Gan's case was transferred from the southeastern province of Fujian to Tianjin as part of a nationwide crackdown that began targeting lawyers and rights activists on July 9, 2015 with a raid on the Beijing Fengrui law firm.
He has reported suffering torture while being held under investigation in a police detention center.
Wu's initial detention came as he staged a performance protest he titled "selling my body to raise funds" in Nanchang city, Jiangxi province.
He was trying to help finance a legal defense for four men who rights campaigners say were wrongly jailed by a court in Jiangxi's Leping city in 2000 for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.
A May 28 article in the state-run news agency Xinhua attacked Wu Gan for his criticism of the police killing of a man at the Qing'an railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang earlier the same month.
Rights activists say Wu likely first drew the ire of the authorities when he posted online his doubts about the credibility of the government’s investigation of the shooting.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.