Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are expected to announce the verdict in the long-delayed case of a prominent human rights activist later this week after holding him in conditions described by his family as 'slow torture,' his lawyer said on Monday.
Yang Maodong, better known by his pseudonym Guo Feixiong, will attend a verdict hearing in the provincial capital Guangzhou along with two co-defendants on Friday.
Guo is awaiting the verdict on charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" following a trial at Guangzhou's Tianhe District People's Court on Nov. 28, 2014.
"The court messaged us to tell us that there will be a verdict and sentencing hearing after all this time," his defense lawyer Zhang Lei told RFA. "It is pretty clear that Guo Feixiong and the others are innocent."
"But we have no reason to be optimistic about either a not guilty verdict, nor about a light sentence," he said.
According to his wife Zhang Qing, now based in the United States, Guo has been held in cramped solitary confinement in the police-run Tianhe Detention Center since August 2013, and denied the opportunity to move around or to take exercise outdoors.
And Dublin-based rights group the Frontline Defenders, which this year presented Guo with an award, said in a recent statement that Guo is considered at risk because his "memory, speech, and mental awareness all showed signs of damage."
Guo's sister Yang Maoping said she expects her brother to go to jail, but called for his release nonetheless.
"I have just got back from Guangzhou, where the tone of the officials [I met with] indicated that they are definitely going to find him guilty," Yang said.
She said she is concerned about Guo's well-being in detention.
"Even if he is transferred from the detention center to a prison, it's not going to be a good environment, because he will still have lost his freedom," she said.
Liu Zhengqing, defense lawyer for co-defendant Liu Yuandong, who faces the same charges along with fellow activist Sun Desheng, said he expects sentence to be passed during the hearing on Friday.
"The [ruling] Chinese Communist Party doesn't act on the basis of reason, but arbitrarily, so I have no way of guessing the outcome," Liu Zhengqing said.
"The longest sentence they could give [Liu Yuandong] would be 10 years."
According to the indictment, the charge against Guo was based on his participation in anti-censorship demonstrations outside the cutting-edge Southern Weekend newspaper offices in Guangzhou in early 2013, where he held up a placard and made a speech in favor of press freedom.
In January 2013, activists, journalists and academics faced off with the authorities after the Southern Weekend newspaper was forced to change a New Year’s editorial calling for political reform into a tribute praising Communist Party rule.
Guo's placards called on officials to publicly disclose their assets, and for the Chinese government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998.
Sun was also accused of holding up placards and inciting crowds to disturb the order of a public place in "flash mob" activities.
Meanwhile, jailed veteran journalist Gao Yu is scheduled to have her appeal against her sentence for "leaking state secrets overseas" heard by the High People's Court in Beijing behind closed doors on Tuesday, her lawyer said.
Gao, 71, was sentenced to a seven-year jail term by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court in April, but has repeatedly denied breaking Chinese law, saying that a televised "confession" on which the prosecution based its case was obtained under duress.
"Gao Yu's case will come before the Beijing High Court on appeal tomorrow," Gao's defense lawyer Mo Shaoping told RFA on Monday.
He said the court has three options: to uphold the original verdict and sentence, to order a retrial, and to adjust her sentence.
"If they alter her sentence, it can only be to reduce it, because sentences can't be increased on appeal," Mo said. "The worst they can do is to uphold the original sentence."
Gao, who has had heart attacks in detention, also suffers from high blood pressure, and has signs of a lymph node growth that could be malignant, her lawyers say.
Rights campaigners say that she is being held in a place where only the most basic medical facilities are available, and have repeatedly called for her release on medical parole, which is allowed under Chinese law.
Rights groups have cited the deaths in custody of rights activist Cao Shunli and popular Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche as examples of the "cruel disregard" shown by the government for the health of prisoners of conscience.
Reported by Lin Jing and Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.