GUANGZHOU China (Reuters) - Lawyers representing a prominent Chinese activist boycotted the start of a long-delayed trial in protest over procedural irregularities on Friday which was then adjourned, in a closely watched case as China clamps down on rights advocates.
Guo Feixiong, 48, a writer and well-known advocate of citizen’s rights based in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, was arrested for taking part in a rare public protest against media censorship outside the offices of the Southern Weekly newspaper last January.
Guo was tried alongside another activist Sun Desheng, 32, who was also at the newspaper protest, on a charge of “gathering crowds to disturb public order”.
Chen Guangwu, one of Guo’s lawyers, said all four of the lawyers representing the two men boycotted the trial given a failure by authorities to grant them at least three days advance notice to prepare for the trial, and for refusing to allow him to take a laptop computer into the courtroom.
“We can’t accept this,” he told Reuters. “If there are no lawyers present, under Chinese law they can’t in theory continue ... but they might find someone else to represent them.”
Guo, in a statement released by New York-based Human Rights in China a day before the trial, said there were serious legal violations by the prosecution, including the denial of defence lawyers’ rights to review case materials.
Guo’s case is the latest involving a number of activists detained or formally arrested on charges of disrupting order in a public place. Rights groups say the charge is tantamount to punishment for forming organisations that criticise government policies.
Zhang Xuezhong, Guo’s other lawyer, said the court opted to adjourn the case for half a month, to decide the next step.
Security was tight outside the Guangzhou People’s Court on a leafy street, with dozens of police blocking roads, preventing foreign reporters and diplomats from getting close to the building.
The bespectacled Guo, whose real name is Yang Maodong, helped push the rights defence movement for over a decade and has provided legal aid to victims of corruption. He was previously jailed for several years.
Zhang said that Guo and Sun took to the stand and said they were not willing to proceed without legal representation.
Under the court’s indictment, the defendants were accused of having disregarded laws and acted as “ringleaders in gathering crowds to seriously disrupt order in public places”.
Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Jeremy Laurence