Beijing (AFP) - The trial of a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer began on Monday without prior public notice, following delayed proceedings in the case which sparked international concern after allegations he was tortured.
Xie Yang, who had worked on numerous cases considered politically sensitive by China's ruling Communist Party, was among hundreds of legal staff and activists detained in a crackdown in the summer of 2015.
"On May 8 at 9:30 am, the trial of defendant Xie Yang opened. (He) is charged with inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order," the Changsha Intermediate People's Court said in a post on its verified microblog.
The court also posted what appeared to be a transcript of opening proceedings.
Last-minute delays or sudden announcements of sensitive trials are not uncommon even though Chinese law requires courts to give a defendant's family and lawyers three days notice of any changes.
On April 25, dozens of supporters and at least seven diplomats had gathered at the Changsha court in central Hunan province -- a long way from Beijing and Shanghai -- only to be told the trial was indefinitely postponed.
Since they received no confirmation of the new trial date, diplomatic sources told AFP they were not prepared to head to Changsha again to observe the trial.
Local activists said in social media posts that they were "warned" on Sunday not to go to Changsha, without providing details about the warnings.
Xie claims police have used "sleep deprivation, long interrogations, beatings, death threats, humiliations" on him, and the EU has voiced concern over his case.
Eleven countries, including Canada, Australia and Switzerland, have cited Xie's case in a letter to Beijing criticising China's detention practices.
Xie's former attorney, Chen Jiangang, was detained by authorities last week while he was vacationing with his family, sparking condemnation from the United Nations' human rights office.
A UN statement on Friday said the move was part of a "continuing pattern of harassment of lawyers, through continued detention, without full due process".
Chen had remained vocal on Xie's case, drawing attention to his former client's allegations of torture, even after the Changsha court denied Xie his pick of defence and provided a court-appointed lawyer instead.
After he was detained in the remote southwestern province of Yunnan on Wednesday, Chen told AFP he was forced to drive back to Beijing accompanied by police officers escorts.
Xie's new defence lawyers have not answered calls from AFP.