A court in the central Chinese province of Hubei on Friday tried a civil rights activist for “incitement to subvert state power” after holding him in pretrial detention for three years, his lawyers and relatives said.
Huang Wenxun was detained around the same time as fellow New Citizens’ Movement activists Yuan Fengchu, also known as Yuan Bing, and Yuan Xiaohua, who were sentenced to three-and-a-half and four years respectively last month for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
The three were targeted for their involvement in press freedom protests outside the Southern group of newspapers in the southern city of Guangzhou, after a local propaganda official rewrote the 2013 New Year’s Day editorial to remove references to constitutional government.
All three, who hail from Hubei’s Chibi city, were held in prolonged pretrial incarceration after their initial detention by police in the southern province of Guangdong in June 2013.
Rumors had previously emerged that Huang had been tried in secret, but his case was heard on Friday by the Xianning People’s Court in Xianning city, which administers Chibi.
The trial started at 8.00 a.m. and finished at 5.00 p.m., Huang’s defense lawyer Luo Lizhi told RFA.
He said he had argued that Huang is not guilty.
“I don’t believe that Huang’s actions constituted incitement to subvert state power, objectively speaking,” he said.
But Luo declined to comment further.
“You should call back in a couple of days, because it’s not convenient for me to give interviews right now,” he said.
“Not convenient” is often used by people under surveillance or political pressure to indicate that they are being closely watched by the authorities.
The trial went ahead amidst tight security, Huang’s supporters said, many of whom were approached by state security police and warned not to try to attend.
“We didn’t go, because we had all been given warnings beforehand not to go,” fellow activist Mao Shanchun told RFA.
“Some of my friends went, such as Sun Tao from Fujian province, who set off from my place yesterday, but he went incommunicado once he had arrived in Wuhan [provincial capital of] Hubei,” Mao said.
“My friends told me that he’s now in a police station in Xianning city, and I called him, but he refused to discuss what had happened to him,” he said.
Fellow activist Bao Naigang said at least three people have been detained or placed under surveillance to prevent them from traveling to Xianning in support of Huang.
“One is Ouyang Jinghua, another is Sun Tao, and then there’s Wang Jiawei,” he said. “I think they are all in Xianning.”
Calls to Sun Tao and Ouyang Jinghua’s cell phones resulted in “switched off” messages on Friday.
Wang Jiawei confirmed that the three had been detained, however.
“I have left the Henggouqiao police station in Xianning now. I have just been released and now I’m on the high-speed train,” he said.
“They forced us to buy tickets back to Wuhan, and then they escorted us aboard the high-speed train and left us there,” Wang said.
Repeated calls to the Xianning police department rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
The Hubei-based rights group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch said Huang’s trial was entirely political in nature.
“We must support Huang Wenxun out of conscience and morality, even though there is no way that we can influence the outcome of this political trial,” the group said in a statement.
“This young rights activist in his 20s was working towards democracy and constitutional government,” it said.
“His ideals will not be destroyed by the government’s political persecution of those who carry out street protests,” it said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.