A rights activist detained after sporting a satirical T-shirt calling Chinese President Xi Jinping "Xitler" will face trial on subversion charges, as the government told his out-of-town defense team they were barred from representing him.
Ethnic Korean Quan Ping, whose name is also spelled in its Korean form, Kwon Pyong, is being held in a police-run detention center in the northeastern province of Jilin after his initial "disappearance" on Sept. 30 last year.
His case was recently transferred to the Yanbian municipal prosecutor's office, paving the way for Kwon's trial at the Yanbian Intermediate People's Court on Wednesday, his attorney Zhang Lei told RFA.
Kwon faces charges of "incitement to subvert the state power," with the indictment against him focusing mainly on posts he made to Facebook and Twitter, Zhang said.
But the authorities have refused repeated requests from his defense team to meet with their client, saying they must provide a letter of introduction from the justice bureau in the city where their law firms are based.
"It looks as if the Yanbian Intermediate People's Court plans to go ahead with the trial after stripping us of our status as his defense attorneys," Zhang said.
"We told them that to require this is against the law and is far from being a reasonable demand, because we're not the employees of the justice bureau ... so there is no requirement for them to write a letter of introduction for us," he said.
"As things stand at the moment, I really don't think they'll be allowing us to attend court for the trial."
Pressure to drop case
Another of Kwon's attorneys, Liang Xiaojun, said he had already been approached by justice bureau officials from Beijing, who had tried to persuade him to withdraw from the case of his own accord.
"I just got back from the justice bureau, who wanted to talk to me about this case, because they had received a report about it from [Yanbian]," Liang said.
"They told me that they hoped I wouldn't get involved in this case, which was 'complicated'," he said.
Yanbian authorities are claiming that the extended requirements for defense lawyers to be accepted by the court only apply in cases where there are "national security concerns," like subversion cases, Liang said.
"They say we must have a letter of introduction, but there's no way [the justice bureau] will issue one for us," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Yanbian Intermediate People's Court declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Monday.
"You need to contact the education and propaganda department. I'm not authorized to give out updates on cases," the employee said.
Freedom of expression?
Repeated calls to the education and propaganda department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Zhang Lei said he had already filed a complaint with the Yanbian prosecutor's office over the court's additional "requirement."
He said he will also appeal to the Jilin High People's Court and provincial-level prosecution authorities.
An online activist surnamed Jiang in the eastern province of Jiangsu said he believes Kwon Pyong is innocent.
"[What he did] falls within the parameters of freedom of expression," Jiang said. "The incitement charge simply doesn't stand up."
"This has nothing at all to do with the government."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.