Just days after the country's parliament voted to enshrine respect for human rights into the constitution, a court in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou is trying three members of an unofficial Christian church for leaking state secrets to foreigners in a secret procedure from which even their relatives are barred.
Xu Yonghai, Liu Fenggang, and Zhang Shengqi attended the first session of the Hangzhou People's Intermediate Court Tuesday, but were told that no relatives would be allowed to attend. Chinese courts usually issue special permits to relatives of defendants.
"They had their first session, but wouldn't say when the trial would begin, or when sentence would be passed," Xu's wife Li Shanna told RFA in an interview. "The judge said that no permits would be issued and that no-one except lawyers would be allowed into the courtroom," she added.
Li said that while in the capital she had been followed by security personnel during the annual sessions of the country's two parliamentary bodies in Beijing in early March. Three public security officers also followed her to Hangzhou on the train, and were watching her the entire way, Li said, adding that they had prevented her from going to the court to hear her husband's trial.
"During the two parliamentary sessions in Beijing, I was already being prevented from going out to visit friends, or from receiving visitors in my home," Li said. "The police followed me to Hangzhou. I couldn't go anywhere, see anybody, except to the supermarket, shopping mall, and sights of interest, that sort of thing."
RFA has also learned that the mother of Zhang Shengqi was stopped by 10 police officers on her arrival in Hangzhou for the trial, and forcibly returned to the railway station, where she was escorted back to her home town in eastern Shandong province.
Originally charged with "inciting the gathering of state secrets," the three Christians were brought to trial on amended charges of "providing intelligence to organizations outside of China." They were arrested in October and November after they smuggled, printed and disseminated a report to overseas rights groups describing a crackdown on Christians in Hangzhou, during which more than a dozen house churches were destroyed and at least 300 Christians were arrested, with some physically abused.
China's Communist regime tolerates strictly controlled and officially recognized Christian churches, but cracks down harshly on any unofficial religious movements with a strong popular following, fearing that they might grow powerful enough to overthrow it. It is particularly sensitive to overseas involvement in religious and human rights-related activities within Chinese borders.