Two activists in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong stood trial on Friday charged with subversion linked to social media posts and campaigns for human rights and democracy, their lawyers said.
Liang Qinhui, also known by his online nickname "Sharp Knife," and Zhang Shengyu who showed public support for last year's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, were tried separately at the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court.
Liang, 32, was detained in April and accused of posting "sensitive and extreme" comments to the popular chatroom site QQ, according to the indictment, with the prosecution focusing in particular on his comment: "Better to be an American dog than a Chinese pig."
The line of text was an apparent reference to the Mao-era description of the United States as "capitalist running dogs," and comes against a background of underground satirical cartoons in the style of George Orwell's Animal Farm showing pigs dressed as ruling Chinese Communist Party officials.
His lawyer Wu Kuiming said the trial went smoothly and that Liang's defense team had entered a plea of not guilty.
"We are of the opinion that this is a freedom of speech case, based on the evidence and the material facts of the case," Wu told RFA after the trial ended.
"We told them in court that his posts and articles formed part of a debate on matters of public interest, and constituted nothing but his personal opinion," Wu said. "He never had any contact with any other citizens offline."
"The prosecution believed that there was evidence that he had sought to incite others to overthrow the socialist system," he said.
According to the indictment, Liang's postings "show evidence of foreign influence," citing his use of the web circumvention tool Freegate to view overseas websites normally blocked by China's censorship system, collectively known as the Great Firewall.
It also cites a post titled "I won't be a descendant of Marx and Lenin," which was posted on a public chatroom in QQ "attracting widespread public attention."
He also downloaded photos and altered them to include slogans calling on people to "save Chinese compatriots from the Chinese communist bandits," the indictment said.
Liang's fiancee Fu Yuqin said she believed Wu had made an excellent defense of Liang, and rejected the charges against him.
"You can't say someone has committed a crime because of [the number of visits] to his profile page," Fu said. "Surely that's too far-fetched."
She added: "He's just a regular guy; it's highly unlikely he is going to try to bring down the government."
Meanwhile, Guangzhou-based activist Zhang Shengyu was also on trial on the same charges following years of vocal activism and campaigning for democracy and a constitutional government.
However, the trial ended early after Zhang, 46, refused to cooperate with the proceedings, his lawyer said.
"The trial ended at around 12:10 p.m., because Zhang Shengyu refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction, and remained silent," defense attorney Liu Zhengqing told RFA.
"When they asked him about the evidence, he just said he didn't remember, so it wrapped up very quickly," he said.
"But the judges weren't listening anyway, however well we spoke in his defense," Liu said, adding that Zhang had reported being beaten up and locked in solitary confinement for six days during his time in the police-run detention center.
He had refused to bargain with prosecutors who offered him a lighter sentence, he said.
"The prosecution said that he would get a lighter punishment if he pleaded guilty, but he refused and said he was hoping for a heavier sentence, and that he is innocent," Liu said.
"He wanted to do this to show up the darkness inherent in the Communist Party," he added.
Zhang was among dozens of activists who converged on the central city of Zhengzhou last year to call for the release of the "Zhengzhou 10," who were detained after a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 2014.
A group of some 30 or 40 of fellow activists gathered near the court building on Friday, but were kept away by a cordon of police around the building, while three or four were detained, activists said.
"We could only watch from the outer boundary; nobody was allowed in," activist Tan Aijun said. "There were a lot of police vehicles parked near the court entrance, and they had cordoned off the area and wouldn't let anyone get close."
He added: "Several of us wanted to get in as observers, but the state security police came running over immediately and took away anyone who said they wanted to observe."
The court has yet to issue verdicts or sentences in either case, but these are typically delivered within six weeks of the closing of a trial.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.