With the trial of human rights activist Yang Maodong, better known by the pen name Guo Feixiong, set to begin today in Guangzhou, the AP reports that his lawyers are planning not to attend the proceedings:
A scheduled trial for a Chinese human rights activist Yang Maodong may not proceed on Friday after his lawyers said they would not attend the court proceedings because authorities did not let them copy court files crucial to the case.
Lawyer Chen Guangwu said Thursday that he and colleague Zhang Xuezhong are not prepared to mount an effective defense for Yang. The district court in the southern city of Guangzhou has banned them from copying docket files including videos and photos related to Yang’s arrest on suspicion of assembling crowds to disrupt public order, Chen said.
“If we cannot review the files properly, how can we be prepared for the trial?” Chen said, adding Yang had requested in writing that his lawyers not show up for the trial. “It’s a severe mistake for the court to not allow us to duplicate files,” he said.
The court did not provide a reason for the ban, Chen said. Calls to the court were not answered Thursday. [Source]
Guo’s trial comes as the Xi administration continues its hardline approach to civil society and human rights activists. Early this year, several New Citizens Movement activists, including the movement’s founder Xu Zhiyong, were given prison sentences for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order”; their court proceedings drew criticism to Beijing for breaking a pledge to uphold the rule of law. At the Wall Street Journal (paywall), journalist Xiao Shu warns that Beijing’s continued efforts to limit China’s civil society will only further alienate the authorities from the people:
On Friday my friend [Guo Feixiong] will face trial and likely be sentenced to prison in Guangzhou, a city in southern China. He has broken no laws. In fact, he is going to go to jail for saying publicly what many Chinese leaders have said publicly themselves. Yet the state will almost certainly deem him guilty of “gathering crowds to disturb public order.” This prosecution carries dark significance for all of China.
[…] The power of civil society in China is growing. The public’s rights consciousness is awakening. Yet our civil society is still extremely weak compared with the world’s strongest ruling state.
The Chinese authorities’ overconfidence in hard power and underconfidence in soft power has rendered them incapable of assessing the situation objectively. So officials are fearful and treat the slowly growing rights movement as a mortal enemy. They probably don’t realize that this extreme policy has antagonized people on all sides, stimulating powerful counterforces.
If the government gives no space to the people, it cannot expect the people to give it space in return. If the government gives no retreat route to civil society, it cannot expect civil society to offer a retreat route in return. The government’s imagined “hostile forces” and “color revolution” will turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. If the authorities don’t change direction, they will eventually reap what they sow. [Source]
Last year, Xiao Shu—also a member of the New Citizens’ Movement—was detained for vocalizing support of Xu Zhiyong.