One of three Chinese anti-graft activists detained by authorities in the southern province of Guangdong may have been secretly tried and jailed for four years on subversion charges, a lawyer has revealed.
Rights attorney Zheng Jianwei came across a court judgment sentencing Huang Wenxun to four years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power" while searching court records for information on a different activist, a second lawyer Liu Shihui told RFA.
"While I am a third-hand source ... I still believe I have a duty and the right to reveal this information about an illegal act," Liu said.
"It is in the public interest, and so many people have a right to know about it," he said.
Huang was apparently sentenced by a court in Chibi city, in the central province of Hubei, according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group.
"A lawyer who asked a Chibi court to confirm the verdict was told that no trial has been held," the group said in an e-mailed statement.
Huang, 24, was originally detained in late May 2013 by Chibi police for "unlawful assembly" during a nationwide crackdown on freedom of assembly, association, and expression while on an advocacy tour of the country with fellow activists, CHRD said.
He and Yuan Fengchu, also known as Yuan Bing, and Yuan Xiaohua were criminally detained on June 8, 2013, and formally arrested five weeks later on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power."
Secret trials feared
Huang's lawyers initially voiced fears as early as November that their client might be tried in secret after being refused permission to meet with him during the six months following his detention.
The apparent leak has sparked fears that the other two activists may also have been tried and sentenced in secret.
Yuan Fengchu's charge was reportedly changed to the lesser public order charge of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order," while the state prosecutor sent his case back to police for further investigation in October, suggesting a lack of evidence.
Huang's lawyer Liang Xiaojun said he had been in touch with officials from the Chibi court soon after hearing the news.
"This news is still unconfirmed ... but the legal team here has been in touch with the Chibi court, and the judge told us that the trial hasn't yet taken place," Liang said.
"They said they would inform us at the appropriate time."
He added: "Secret trials should never happen, and they are fairly unlikely to."
Illegal action by court
However, Liu Shihui said that if the judgment document has already been issued, the court has acted illegally.
"It is totally illegal for the court to issue a judgment where no trial has taken place," he said.'
A pretrial meeting was held at the Chibi Municipal People's Court on March 13, CHRD reported at the time.
All three activists were being held at the Jiayu County Detention Center in Chibi, where Huang was reportedly beaten by inmates, the group said.
Yuan Fengchu's lawyer reported after visiting him last October that Yuan's skull was cracked from being beaten by inmates, requiring him to get stitches, it said.
Huang, 24, was detained after he took part in a peaceful march on March 31.
Together with around 10 other people, Huang marched through Guangzhou's city center holding placards calling on officials to disclose their assets and to support then Premier Wen Jiabao's call for political reform.
Dozens of people linked in some way to the anti-graft group have been detained over the past year, according to Amnesty International, while the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said that a total of seven activists linked to the movement have now been handed formal jail terms.
Anti-graft campaigner and New Citizens' Movement founder Xu Zhiyong was handed a four-year jail term in January on public order charges after staging a street protest calling for greater transparency from the country's richest and most powerful people.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.