Lawyers acting for evictee Fan Mugen walked out of court on Thursday in protest over violations of legal procedure on the second day of his trial in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu.
Fan's trial at the Suzhou Intermediate People's Court on charges of "intentional wounding" came after he attacked two members of a demolition gang that came to evict his family from their home, and whom he said beat up his wife.
The two men died, while six other members of the gang stood trial at a district court in the provincial capital Suzhou on Monday.
Fan's defense lawyers walked out after a day of hearing evidence, in protest of the admission of video footage by the prosecution, which the defense said was suspect and should be further investigated.
"There was an extremely important piece of objective evidence that wasn't admitted, and without it we couldn't make our case," defense lawyer Wang Yu told RFA.
"So all four lawyers left the court in protest; not to refuse to defend [Fan] but in the hope that Fan Mugen will get a better defense that that, one that takes place under the proper conditions," she said.
Violated legal procedure
Wang said the trial had been plagued with violations of legal procedure since it started on Wednesday.
"The prosecution showed some video footage shot by complaints office staff on Dec. 3, 2013, which had a lot of places that didn't seem authentic, and which we thought had very clearly been heavily edited," she said. "Fan Mugen himself had suspicions about it."
Wang said the lawyers had demanded that the video be sent for technical analysis.
"At around 6 p.m. the court came to the illegal decision that the video was authentic, and rejected our application," she said.
Wang said the lawyers filed a complaint with the state prosecution service shortly after leaving the court.
"We hope that the procuratorate will be able to rectify the illegal actions of the court," she said.
She said the defense lawyers wouldn't proceed with the trial on Friday if the procuratorate failed to respond to the complaint in an adequate manner.
"It would be deceptive to the general public to proceed, and I think that they have already decided what the outcome of this trial will be, anyway," Wang said. "So there isn't much use for a defense team."
Fan's son, Fan Yongmei, said he had seen one of the six suspects in Monday's trial sitting in the public gallery.
"The trial was adjourned, and they let him out; they are witnesses in the case, so how could he be sitting in the gallery?" he said.
Outside the court, hundreds of activists gathered to show support for Fan, whose case hasn't been reported by China's tightly controlled state media.
Chinese authorities have previously charged suspects who kill someone with "intentional wounding" rather than homicide in cases where there is strong provocation, such as an attack on a loved one.
Fan's case is politically sensitive, as it comes amid simmering public anger over the use of violent forced evictions, often with no warning or due process, by local governments to reclaim land for lucrative redevelopment or speculation.
Support from activists
Guangzhou-based rights activist Jia Pin said at least a couple of hundred activists had traveled to the city for the trial, and that dozens were detained by authorities from their hometowns.
"There were 200 or 300 people here to show support, slightly fewer than [on Wednesday]," Jia said. "There were state security police drafted in from every city in Jiangsu standing at the front gate of the court.”
"They detained activists from their respective districts and took them back there," he said. "Some even came from outside the province, with some stability maintenance officials who came from [the northern port city of] Tianjin."
Jia said one activist had held high a photograph of President Xi Jinping with slogans calling for the rule of law written on it.
"No sooner had he held up the photo than four or five police officers swooped on him and snatched the photo away and dragged him off somewhere," he said. "We don't know where he is now."
The requisitioning of land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, as well as frequent suicide protests by those forcibly evicted from their homes, rights groups say.
Many evictions result in the beating, further harassment, and detention of anyone who resists or complains, while the government's complaints system is overwhelmed by applications from evictees for redress, official figures show.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.