Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou will try two prominent rights activists on Friday on public order offenses after they took part in street protests for press freedom and called for greater government transparency and protection for human rights.
Activists Yang Maodong, better known by his nickname Guo Feixiong, and Sun Sihuo, better known as Sun Desheng, will stand trial at the Tianhe District People's Court in Guangzhou on charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order."
Both men were detained in August 2013, several months after taking part in anti-censorship protests outside the cutting-edge Southern Weekly newspaper buildings in Guangzhou, and after they called on Chinese leaders to declare details of their own and their families' assets.
"[Guo Feixiong] will be pleading not guilty, and has prepared a very full defense," his defense lawyer Zhang Lei told RFA after visiting his client in the Tianhe District Detention Center on Thursday. "We were able to discuss some of the details of tomorrow's trial."
Guo was detained in Aug. 8, 2013 after he petitioned the government to ratify U.N. human rights treaties.
However, his case was sent back for further investigation twice by the state prosecution service in Guangzhou's Tianhe district, leading to repeated delays in the trial.
Zhang hit out at Guo's treatment at the hands of the police-run detention center, as well as the repeated extension of his pretrial detention.
"He has been detained now for 469 days straight, and has no access to outdoor exercise, which is clearly in breach of the rules governing detention centers," he said.
"There have been a number of illegal breaches of due process in this case, which have negatively impacted my client's right to a defense lawyer," Zhang added. "This has violated my client's basic human rights, and we will be pointing this out during the trial."
Sun's lawyer, Chen Jinxue, said he was surprised to find his client in manacles as the trial approached.
"He has been subjected to ill-treatment in the detention center, and he has been wearing manacles and leg irons for more than a week now...even to meet with his lawyer," Chen said. "Manacles and leg irons are usually only used on suspects of serious crime."
"He has also been unable to receive clothing and bedding [from his family] inside the detention center."
Denied access to foods
Chen said Sun had also been denied access to some of the foods sent by his relatives. "They have locked them up in the store and won't give them to him," Chen said. "If he tries to eat it, they beat him up."
Chen said Sun has also been denied access to pen and paper, and to reading materials.
The overseas-based group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said the charges against both Guo and Sun should be dropped.
"The cases against Guo and Sun must be dropped because they were arrested for exercising their rights to free speech and assembly," CHRD international director Renee Xia said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.
"Refusing to set them free, despite allegations of torture, prolonged pre-trial detention, and deprivation of their right to legal counsel, indicates that the government is sliding further back from keeping its promises to 'protect human rights,'" Xia said.
Guo's sister Yang Maoping told RFA last week that the family hoped to be allowed to attend Friday's trial.
"I will be going along with my brother; I am desperate to see [him] come home as soon as possible," she said. "I don't know what the verdict will be, but I hope that the Tianhe District Court will apply the principle of the rule of law."
No real change
But according to Xia, recent announcements that the ruling Chinese Communist Party would focus on "rule by law" are unlikely to result in any real change in the party's attitude to its critics.
"In punishing activists like Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng, Chinese leaders make it clear that their 'governing the country by law' mantra has little do with building rule of law in China," she said.
"The government...has no intention to loosen its control on the legal system as its weapon to silence and punish human rights and democracy advocates."
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.