A controversial trial of three prominent mainland activists accused of encouraging others to undermine the government, was halted yesterday after the trio dismissed their lawyers to stop the case from proceeding, the lawyers and a family member said. Former rights lawyer Tang Jingling , university lecturer Wang Qingying and freelancer Yuan Chaoyang, also known as Yuan Xinting are charged with inciting subversion of state power in a case critics say is political persecution. The three were detained in May last year for "starting quarrels and provoking trouble". At the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court yesterday, the trio dismissed all six of their lawyers after the court rejected defence requests that no ruling Communist Party member be on the bench and that defence witnesses be allowed to testify in court, said Zhang Xuezhong , one of the lawyers. "We don't think it's proper for party members to hear the case, so we requested non-party members to be on the bench," he said. "Our clients are indicted with inciting subversion of state power. If they are tried by party members in a dictatorship, it would violate the principle of fairness." Tang's wife Wang Yanfang , who was allowed to attend the hearing, said the court's insistence on holding the trial despite the defence request that party members be removed from the bench, prompted Tang to dismiss his lawyers to stop the proceedings. The other two defendants followed suit. Outside the court house yesterday, security was tight, with hundreds of officers, both uniformed and in plainclothes, deployed around Yuexiu district's Cang Bian Road, controlling public access. Iron barricades were set up and more than a dozen people in the vicinity who appeared to be supporters of the three activists were dragged away. Some supporters were seen wearing white T-shirts printed with Tang's photo, chanting slogans and raising a banner. "I'm here to voice concern over Tang, my conscience and justice ... We do not want our next generation to live in horror and dictatorship," said one Tang supporter, Huang Zhiping, 62. Among the other supporters present was Li Wangling , whom Tang once helped. Li is the younger sister of the late near-blind-and-deaf rights campaigner Li Wangyang . Li Wangyang, who was jailed for 21 years, was found dead in 2012, four days after Hong Kong Cable TV broadcast an interview with him. The activists' supporters were quickly removed from the scene. Before the hearing began, two of the defence lawyers, Sui Muqing and Liu Zhengqing , presented scratch marks on their arms and necks, alleging they had been attacked by plainclothes policemen on their way to the courthouse. Tang, 44, is an advocate for non-violent civil disobedience in the push for democracy and political reform on the mainland. He also advocates mediation between authorities and victims in the June 4 Tiananmen incident. Huang and Yuan, both linked to Tang's activism, were arrested at around the same time last year.