Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have prevented witnesses appearing in the trial of veteran rights activist and would-be independent parliamentary election candidate Zhou Decai on public order offenses and beaten his wife, relatives said on Wednesday.
"More than 20 people were beating me up," Zhou's wife Liu Baoqin told RFA's Mandarin service after she arrived at the Gushi County People's Court with a witness for her husband's defense.
"They grabbed me by the hair and hit me around the face a number of times, making bruises," she said. "They also snatched away my cell phone."
"We got to the court entrance at about 8:00 a.m. and around 20 people showed up that we didn't recognize," Liu said. "I said I had found some witnesses and asked why they were taking me away."
An independent candidate in his local People’s Congress election and a grassroots organizer and activist for years, her husband Zhou was taken into custody while preparing to attend a labor rights defense seminar in Beijing that focused on tobacco industry workers bought out by their companies, according to the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders group.
Detained since Feb. 28, Zhou was formally arrested on March 10.
Last month, Zhou staged a hunger strike in the Gushi County Detention Center in protest at the charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order."
Liu said court officials had declined to allow Zhou's friends or relatives to attend the trial, nor had they informed the family when the trial would begin.
"They used police vehicles to take him in through the back door and we never even saw him," she said. "They wouldn't let us in because officials higher up wouldn't allow it."
"I had gone through the formalities ... but they kept me by the entrance and told me I wasn't allowed in," she said.
Liu said some of the witnesses she found to help defend Zhou had received visits from police the night before the trial.
"They went to their homes and told them they wouldn't be allowed to take the witness stand," she said. "A lot of them pulled out."
The Chinese authorities have warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, and that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the People's Congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels will be elected during nationwide elections, held every five years, in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7, 2011 through December 2012.
In March, Jiangxi-based laid-off worker Liu Ping, who gained the backing of more than 30 people for her nomination in district elections was strip-searched and beaten during several weeks' detention in an unofficial detention center, or "black jail."
Before her candidacy for district People's Congress in Xinyu city was rejected, Liu had mustered a strong following among laid-off and retired workers, as well as existing workers who complained of poor conditions in their jobs.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.