The trial of three antigraft activists who pushed for officials to disclose their assets has been adjourned on its first day, after lawyers complained that the court ignored due process and tried to conduct an unfair trial.
Rights groups said the prosecution of Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua in Jiangxi province was the first court case in a wider crackdown on activists and government critics under the new government that has seen scores detained or arrested this year.
The three were initially charged with "inciting subversion of state power" but that was changed to "illegal assembly". In September, Liu and Wei were also charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place" and "using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement".
At court yesterday morning, lawyers for the three said the judges illegally extended their detention without due process. They argued that the trial should not proceed unless their clients were first released as it had not taken place within the required three months since the case was filed with the court.
Wei's lawyer Chen Guangwu said he and five other lawyers have also appealed to the head of the court to change the case's judges, who illegally extended the trio's detention. However, the judges yesterday refused the application and said the trial would go ahead.
"We have reasons to believe our clients will be subjected to an unfair trial," Chen said.
Chen and Zhang Xuezhong , Liu Ping's lawyer, said at the afternoon session that the three defendants had terminated their contracts with their lawyers, so the court had to adjourn the case. Under Chinese law, defendants are given 15 days to appoint new lawyers.
"This is in the interest of the three defendants because the period of adjournment will provide an opportunity for the court to rectify its mistakes," Zhang said.
The three defendants were involved in the nationwide New Citizen initiative, which pushes for democracy, rule of law and basic civil rights. At least 18 New Citizen activists have been detained or arrested since April.
Liu's daughter, Liao Minyue , said she was manhandled by military police at the court when she tried to shout a message of support to her mother after the morning session.
"I wanted to say 'I love you and support you', Liao said. "My mother hasn't done anything wrong."
During the trial, large numbers of unidentified security men stood outside the court and military police filmed Liao and the lawyers as they entered and left the court.
Chen complained that he and two other lawyers were stopped outside the court while police took their time to inspect their licences and other documents. Activists say that about 20 supporters of the trio who tried to go to Xinyu city where the trial is being staged were detained or sent back to their home towns.
Phone calls to the Yushui District People's Court in Xinyu went unanswered.