Authorities in the Chinese capital are holding four supporters of detained human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang after they showed up outside a Beijing court during his trial on Monday.
Police and court officials scuffled with journalists and a crowd of Pu's supporters outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, where Pu stood trial for "incitement to racial hatred" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
Carrying placards saying "Pu Zhiqiang is innocent," his supporters traveled from across the country in a bid to witness his trial.
Some told overseas media that they had come to show support after he represented them in court.
But many were dragged from the scene by plainclothes police wearing no identification but yellow "smiley face" stickers on their clothing.
While some were later released, activists confirmed to RFA on Thursday that Zhang Zhan, Wang Su'e, Liang Hongxia ,and Ran Chongbi remain in criminal detention.
"They are being held in the Fengtai district detention center," Beijing-based activist Cheng Yulan told RFA. "They are all being held under criminal detention."
Clothing turned away
Cheng said she had tried to leave money and clothing for Wang and the others, but police at the detention center had refused to allow it.
"The woman there opened up the bag [of clothes] to look, and then she said I couldn't leave it there," Cheng said. "I asked her under what rule and suggested that she couldn't name the rule."
"Then they said that if I said anything else, they'd detain me for five days."
Cheng said police had replied "not necessarily," when asked if the four were being held for a limited period only.
Xu Qin, of the China Human Rights Observer group, said the detention of Zhang, Wang, Liang, and Ran was in contravention of their human rights.
"These detentions took place when the crowd wasn't very agitated; they started detaining people even before they had raised placards or shouted slogans," Xu said.
"We call for the immediate release of all four people under criminal detention."
Right of assembly
Xu said the bystanders had simply hoped to witness the judicial system at work, and that Chinese citizens have a constitutional right of assembly.
He also dismissed the charges against Pu, which rested on his criticisms of ruling Chinese Communist Party policies towards ethnic minorities and of prominent public figures.
"First they bring charges against Pu Zhiqiang on the basis of seven social media tweets, which was ridiculous in the first place, and then, when people want to witness the trial, they say it has to do with state secrets," Xu said in an interview on Thursday.
"There were no state secrets at this trial ... nor any commercial secrets," he said.
Several hundred of Pu's supporters showed up outside the court building holding placards, and police detained 18 people in scuffles with the crowd, eyewitnesses told RFA at the time.
Foreign diplomats and journalists were also involved in scuffles with police, and were barred from entering the court building amid tight security.
Social media posts
The case against Pu rests on seven posts he has admitted making to the popular social media platform Sina Weibo between 2012 and May 2014.
Pu has offered to apologize for being "rude," but his lawyers say he had done nothing to break Chinese law.
The "incitement to racial hatred" charge was based on a number of tweets he sent in the aftermath of the March 1, 2014 knife attack at Kunming railway station, which left 29 people dead and more than 140 injured.
A verdict is expected within six weeks of the trial.
Defense lawyers are arguing that there is no need for Pu's prolonged detention, because he doesn't represent a danger to society, and have hit out at repeated delays and extensions to his stay in Beijing's police-run No. 3 Detention Center.
Pu's initial detention on May 6, 2014 came ahead of an event marking the anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, in which he played a prominent role.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.