Chinese authorities in the troubled western region of Xinjiang on Tuesday tried a retired judge in a quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp brigade, or bingtuan, on suspicion of "incitement to racial hatred."
Huang Yunmin, former judge in the bingtuan's Third Brigade in Kashgar prefecture had initially been held on a brief administrative sentence in March in the bingtuan city of Tumxuk after he helped local workers protest at their treatment by the authorities.
But he was later indicted for "incitement to racial hatred and ethnic discrimination" by police there, and pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to the charges at the Kenqu District People's Court in Kashgar.
His defense attorney Ran Tong told RFA that the trial had closed after a day of hearings with no immediate verdict. Sentence is typically passed within six weeks of a trial.
"He was just sharing information [about legal cases]; he wasn't disseminating it," Ran said. "This was a case of mutual study and learning between a group of friends."
"It is incorrect to treat it as a crime, from the law's point of view," he said.
Ran said the presiding judges had "rushed" through the proceedings without taking time to listen to or consider the arguments made by the defense.
Plea for leniency
Huang's sister Huang Xiaoqin said his demeanor was humble in court, and he pleaded with the judges, in spite of pleading not guilty to the charges.
"He wept on the phone call with me for fully one minute before he said that he had pleaded for leniency," she said. "This was very painful for everyone in our family."
She said Huang is in poor health, and appears to be suffering from some kind of gastrointestinal complaint and a respiratory infection, with a weakened immune system.
She said she is concerned that he has insufficient clothing in detention to stay warm during the approaching winter.
Huang is a former member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party whose friends have rejected the charges against him, saying they are likely a form of retaliation for his criticism of government policies in Xinjiang.
Huang, 58, had served as a judge at the bingtuan's Third Brigade People's Court in Tumxuk since the 1990s, rising to become head of human resources before taking early retirement.
He had later made a name for himself as an able legal advocate, and had offered legal assistance to vulnerable groups of workers on the bingtuan's farming operations, and had previously been detained on a number of occasions.
In particular, Huang had helped a migrant worker from Henan province lodge an official complaint in Beijing, his friends said.
A widely respected judge and legal advocate, Huang is known in the profession as a senior lawyer with a "keen sense of justice," they said.
The People's Liberation Army production companies, or bingtuan, are units of command that enable Beijing to maintain key areas and exploit rich resources in the largely Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The region's Muslim ethnic minority Kazakhs and Uyghurs are treated by the ruling Chinese Communist Party as a potential security threat, and targeted for discriminatory policing and immigration controls.
Sources in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture told RFA on Tuesday that authorities there have "stopped issuing passports altogether" to Uyghurs and Kazakhs.
"They're not issuing passports at all to Kazakhs and Uyghurs right now," a Kazakh source said. "When we asked them when they will start again they said they didn't know."
"The police in Ili said it was on orders from higher up, but [majority] Han Chinese, ethnic Mongolians and non-Muslims can all still get passports."
An official who answered the phone at the police entry and exit bureau in Ili's Shaosu county said ethnic minorities must get approval from nine different government departments before a passport can be issued, however.
"They have to get stamps from nine different departments, including the state security police, their local police station, their hometown government, from here, there and everywhere," the official said.
"Altogether, their application must be reviewed and stamped by nine departments."
Elsewhere in the region, sources said the authorities are now closing mosques on all days except Friday, the main prayer day for Muslims.
"The Great Bazaar Mosque in [regional capital] Urumqi is monitored to see how many people come to Friday prayers," a Kazakh resident of the city said. "They won't let anyone in who isn't authorized; people have to use a card, and swipe it to gain entry."
"If you don't have a card, you won't get in."
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.