The arrest of a human rights lawyer in a courtroom after the trial of a Falun Gong follower has prompted more than 100 lawyers to sign an open letter to authorities and dozens of people from across the country to protest in Jiangsu province.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Jingjiang People's Court yesterday to protest against what they said was the court's unfair treatment of Beijing-based defence lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was detained on Tuesday after defending a member of the spiritual movement banned on the mainland for being an "evil cult".
Liu Weiguo, a lawyer from Shandong province who helped draft the open letter, said it would be impossible for mainland lawyers to defend sensitive clients if they faced retaliation simply for doing their jobs.
Wang was detained for taking pictures of his own legal documents. But his assistant and others in the courtroom said he had not violated a ban on taking photos of proceedings.
The court said on its website on Thursday that Wang had been detained for "severely violating the order of the court", but give no details.
In their open letter, the lawyers said that if Wang's case was not immediately resolved, "it will harm the image of the Chinese judiciary, and undermine or destroy the people's trust in the nation under the rule of law". They called for the release of video footage of the trial.
A growing number of public-interest lawyers on the mainland have been willing to challenge the courts' preference for following party edicts rather than the letter of the law in recent years. But in doing so, many risk intimidation by authorities.
Li Subin , who had his law licence revoked after defending many human right cases, saw Wang present his case but said the judge repeatedly interrupted the lawyer, while the government prosecutor was allowed to make a full address.
"It was quite obvious that the judge was partial towards the prosecutor," Li said.
Wang's client, Zhu Yanian, 68, pleaded not guilty to "sabotaging legal enforcement" by participating in a cult last year. The charge is regularly used against mainland Falun Gong practitioners. Zhu was accused of having Falun Gong material at home.
Zhu Dan, the defendant's daughter, said local authorities had pressured her before the trial to hire a more obedient local defence lawyer rather than Wang.