Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have called for further investigation into the charges against a top human rights lawyer and activist, in an apparent delay tactic, his lawyer said Friday.
Campaigning Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Yang Maodong, better known by his pseudonym Guo Feixiong, is currently being held on charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" in connection with a press-freedom protest outside the city's Southern Weekend newspaper last year.
Guo, also a veteran of the Taishi village campaign to remove its ruling Chinese Communist Party leader in 2005, which ended in violent clashes, was formally charged at the end of last year and his case transferred to the state prosecution service.
But the Tianhe district procuratorate has sent the case file back to the police, requesting more evidence, Guo's lawyer Zhang Xuezhong said Friday.
"Sending the case back for further investigation should mean that they still need to provide further evidence, but the real reason or motivation doesn't necessarily have much to do with evidence," Zhang said.
"If the procuratorate was looking at this case from a purely legal or realistic point of view, then they should decide not to proceed to trial at all," he said.
"[The case against Guo] really doesn't amount to any crime."
He said the state procuratorate is bound under Chinese law to return a decision on cases transferred from police investigations within six weeks of receiving them.
"Sending it back for further investigation ... gives them enough time to make arrangements for this trial."
Beijing-based rights lawyer Lin Qilei said the move was likely a delay tactic to allow for the hiatus caused by national holidays over Chinese New Year, rather than a sign that the case against Guo could eventually be rejected.
"Sending this case back doesn't mean there will be a good outcome," Lin said. "There is no sign of that happening."
He said the authorities were keen to wrap up trials of dissidents and rights activists ahead of national parliamentary sessions in March.
Lin, who represents Beijing-based New Citizens' Movement activist Zhao Changqing, whose trial on similar charges was deliberately delayed by the activist himself, said the timing of political cases like Guo's and Zhao's was crucial for the Communist Party.
"It's not so bad; if Guo Feixiong can delay [his trial] until after the parliamentary sessions, it might attract a whole lot more attention," Lin said.
China has jailed a number of "New Citizens' Movement" anti-corruption activists on similar public order charges in recent weeks after they staged public demonstrations calling on the country's leaders to reveal details of their wealth.
Last month, a court in Beijing convicted Yuan Dong, Ding Jiaxi, Li Wei, and Zhang Baocheng for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order," a day after the sentencing of prominent dissident Xu Zhiyong, a co-founder of the New Citizens' Movement, to four years' imprisonment on the same charges.
Dozens of activists staged a rare public protest outside the headquarters of the Southern Media Group, which publishes the outspoken Southern Weekend newspaper, in support of the paper's journalists who had gone on strike.
The protest and strike on Jan. 7, 2013 occurred after the paper's pro-reform New Year editorial message was radically altered by the Communist Party's propaganda department to reflect the party line.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.