Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan appear to be moving ahead with the trial of a close friend of veteran labor activist Li Wangyang on charges of subversion after he posted videos online of the scene of Li's death under suspicious circumstances.
Zhu Chengzhi was one of Li's most active supporters in the wake of his June 6 death in police custody at a hospital in Hunan's Shaoyang city, which the authorities said was suicide, but was questioned as highly suspicious by many friends and online activists.
Zhu will likely be formally charged with "incitement to subvert state power." His case has now been passed to the state prosecutor's office, paving the way for a trial, his wife Zeng Xiulian said on Wednesday.
"I called up the state security police ... and they told me the case had already been passed over to the People's Procuratorate," Zeng said, adding "We have hired a lawyer."
She said she had been allowed to visit Zhu a number of times since he was detained five months ago.
"His mood is OK, because he's a pretty strong person," Zeng said.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said there are now two possible outcomes.
"One is that they will decide that the circumstances are clear and that there is sufficient evidence to send this to the People's Court for trial," he said.
"But if it's hard to make the charges stand up, they could send it back to the police for further investigation."
Liu said the authorities are probably dragging out Li's case.
"I'm fairly sure they have lacked evidence against Zhu from the outset," he said.
"As in many other cases, they are just dragging things out as long as they can until they either try him or let him out on bail."
Call for inquiry
Zhu is the last of a large group of Li's supporters who were held in the wake of his death, which sparked an online outcry and a campaign for an independent inquiry.
"According to my understanding, Zhu Chengzhi shot some photographs and video at the scene [of Li's death], and put a video online," Liu said.
"Such actions alone in no way constitute a crime."
"It makes no difference whether Li Wangyang's death was homicide or suicide. It has nothing to do with what Zhu Chengzhi is being charged with."
Beijing-based rights activist Wang Lihong slammed the charges against Zhu.
"This just shows that those thugs in Shaoyang will really stop at nothing," Wang said. "All he did was take some video of the scene of Li's death; he didn't even write articles about it."
"I am very angry about this, and we won't rest until [he is released]."
Hunan authorities released from house arrest around 20 of Li's supporters after the 18th Congress of China's ruling Communist Party in November.
Foul play suspected
Family members and Li’s fellow activists had become the target of a government crackdown for months after they challenged the official account of his death and its immediate aftermath.
When relatives arrived at the scene of Li's death, his body was hanging by the neck from the ceiling near his hospital bed, but was removed by police soon afterwards.
Relatives, friends, and rights groups have all called into question several details of both circumstance and timing which they say point to the possibility of foul play, including photographs distributed on the Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo, which showed Li’s feet touching the floor.
Police took away Li’s body after his death was discovered and kept it in an unknown location, Li's relatives said.
A Chinese police investigation into Li's death upheld an earlier verdict of suicide, in spite of widespread public doubts over the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old hanged himself.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.