Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have held the subversion trial of activist Ou Biaofeng, who publicly supported the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, in secret, RFA has learned.
Ou stood trial behind closed doors in Hunan's Zhuzhou city on Jan. 27, facing charges of "subversion of state power," inside the Zhuzhou No. 1 Detention Center, where Ou is being held.
Despite tight security around the facility, two people managed to break through a security cordon and display a placard and shoot video showing support for Ou.
Ou's wife Wei Huanhuan said she wasn't allowed to attend the trial, and that several state security police officers were watching her building on the day.
"Apparently the trial was held in a court inside the detention center, and it wasn't open to the public," Wei told RFA. "They wouldn't let family members in as observers, because of the pandemic."
Police had told her that Ou wasn't being singled out for special treatment, and that many cases are currently being heard in this way.
"But they also said family members couldn't attend because of the nature of the case," she said.
Wei said Ou was represented by a government lawyer, whom she described as "very passive."
"We repeatedly tried to negotiated with the state security police, but they kept saying that these were Ou Biaofeng's wishes," she said. "We had been hoping to hire a lawyer of the kind we trust ... but Ou Biaofeng had been inside for so long that ... he had no choose but to compromise [with police demands]."
Wei said it is hard to find a good rights attorney willing to take on a dissident's case in China.
"The lawyers are themselves under political pressure, with some law firms putting pressure on them not to represent [Ou], so they were unable to get involved," she said. "Even if they wanted to take the case, the authorities would find a way [to obstruct them]."
The government lawyer allocated to represent Ou was unavailable for comment on Thursday.
Activists watched, taken by police
But a local rights activist who requested anonymity told RFA that two people were jailed on administrative sentences after being taken way by police, while a number of activists were placed under surveillance and police restrictions ahead of the trial, to prevent them from showing up in the first place.
"Two people were detained ... They took the authorities by surprise because they went there in the night," the activist said. "A lot of people were placed under restrictions on Jan. 26, and quite a few were detained and placed under house arrest or kept at the police station for stability maintenance."
The activist said they had also been forced to leave Zhuzhou.
"Three people came to my hotel room [on the morning of Jan. 27], stayed for more than two hours, then escorted me back [to my hometown] at 10.00 am," the activist said.
The activist said security appeared to be much tighter than in previous years, possibly due to the forthcoming 20th Party Congress later this year, which will decide whether to endorse another term in office for ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping.
"We basically have to keep a low profile, and we can't go anywhere," they said.
Prior to his detention, Ou had been a vocal supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, starting from the 2014 Occupy Central campaign for universal suffrage, which later broadened into the Umbrella Movement, and continuing with his support for the 2019 anti-extradition movement, which broadened to include demands for full democracy and accountability for police violence against largely peaceful protesters.
In August 2020, after national security police raided the headquarters of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and its parent company Next Digital, Ou posted a photo of himself to social media holding a copy of the Apple Daily.
He also expressed his support for Next Digital's founder, pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai, who is currently behind bars awaiting trial under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong from July 1, 2019, and called on his friends to mail copies of the Apple Daily to Hunan to show support for the paper, as Hongkongers lined up to buy copies in solidarity following the raid.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.