Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong say they will try two prominent rights activists this week on public order charges, but their defense lawyers have threatened to boycott the trial in protest at the flouting of legal procedures by the court.
Detained rights lawyer Yang Maodong, who is better known by his pseudonym Guo Feixiong, was detained in Aug. 8, 2013 on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order" after he petitioned the government to ratify U.N. human rights treaties.
However, his case has been sent back for further investigation twice by the state prosecution service in Guangzhou's Tianhe district, leading to repeated delays in the trial.
Fellow rights activist Sun Desheng will also stand trial on the same charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order."
Guo's lawyer Zhang Xuezhong said he was informed of the schedule on Tuesday.
"The trial will take place at 9.00 a.m. on Sept. 12 at the Tianhe District People's Court [in Guangzhou]," Zhang said.
"The court called me and messaged me to inform me."
Zhang said Sun and Guo's defense teams will be limited to submitting their arguments on paper, and will only be allowed to use computers provided by the court.
"There is no basis for the second requirement, and the court should not have special measures for this particular case," Zhang said.
Shandong-based rights lawyer Chen Guangwu, who is also defending Guo, agreed.
"For the time being, we have told the court we can't accommodate this request," Chen said, suggesting that the trial may run into procedural delays, as has happened in recent trials of other rights activists.
Sun's lawyer Ge Wenxiu said he would also be objecting. "The court is acting illegally, and they are just springing this on us to mess us about," he said.
"I won't be attending the trial on Friday," Ge said.
Sun was formally arrested in Guangzhou in November 2013 after he demonstrated on the street in support of detained New Citizens' Movement founder Xu Zhiyong, his lawyer said on Friday.
Sun Desheng was detained after he held up a placard with the words "Shame on [President] Xi Jinping, Xu Zhiyong is innocent!" on a street in Guangzhou last August.
Sun and Guo have recently become associated with the loosely grouped anti-graft and civil rights campaign, which has seen dozens of its activists detained over the past year, while seven have been sentenced to formal jail terms, rights groups said.
Lawyers defending the activists have been subjected to repeated harassment and official obstructions.
In April, lawyers representing activists Ding Jiaxi and Li Wei walked out of their trial at a Beijing district court in protest, citing flagrant breaches of legal procedure and the rules of evidence.
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.
Meanwhile, detained Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, currently under formal arrest on public order charges, is rapidly approaching the end of the two-month time limit on detention without trial, his attorney said on Tuesday.
"Pu Zhiqiang was detained on May 6 and formally arrested on June 13," his defense lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told RFA. "The investigation team has the option of extending for just one month after two months."
"After Sept. 13, they will have run out of time to do that, and we still don't know if they will extend the investigation period, or send the case to the prosecution service [in preparation for a trial]," he said.
"Or they may release him on 'bail' with controls and conditions," Liu said. "We will have to wait and see."
Lawyers harassed, beaten
China's embattled legal profession is no stranger to official harassment, detention, and beatings for speaking out on human rights issues or defending politically sensitive clients, but recently the ruling Chinese Communist Party has also stepped up pressure on lawyers who seek to defend one another.
Pu was detained following a May 3 discussion forum on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Within days, his own lawyer Qu Zhenhong was also detained by Beijing police on suspicion of "illegally gathering citizens' information."
Later, he hired a new lawyer, Zhang Sizhi, whose requests for a meeting were repeatedly turned down.
Pu's lawyers and supporters have also expressed concern that he may not be receiving adequate treatment for his diabetes inside the detention center.
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.