The wife of detained human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang accused China's highest-level prosecution body on Thursday of trying to shift the blame for a pretrial detention that has lasted three-and-a-half years.
Zhang Jun, chief prosecutor at the Supreme People's Procuratorate in Beijing, accused Wang's family of "delaying" his case with frequent changes of defense attorney.
"The judiciary is acting in accordance with the procedures prescribed by law, and [Wang's] rights are being well protected," Zhang told journalists when asked to explain the delay.
He pointed to official media criticism of Wang's family over their frequent changes in defense attorney, and Wang's firing of his state-appointed lawyer at the start of his Dec. 26 trial for "incitement to subvert state power."
But he also claimed that Wang's move wouldn't cause further delays.
Wang's wife Li Wenzu said the trial was "never going to be anything other than going through the motions" and that the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court had been in breach of legal time limits for pretrial detention since her husband's initial detention in July 2015.
Last month, Li was escorted away by unidentified security personnel after she tried to file an official complaint against the Tianjin court at the Supreme People's Court in Beijing.
She told RFA in an interview on Thursday that the frequent changes of defense attorney were the result of official intimidation and political pressure on every lawyer she hired, as well as a refusal by the authorities to confirm Wang's whereabouts and to allow his lawyer to meet with him.
"Wang was indicted by the court on Feb. 14, 2017, but then the judge kept refusing to allow him to meet with lawyers hired by his family," Li said. "They also refused to allow the lawyer to read the case files."
"So this was a case of deliberate delaying tactics, which meant that [Wang] was held far beyond the limit as stated by the rules," she said. "They were the ones who broke the law; and they did it deliberately."
"As Wang Quanzhang's wife, my strongest desire and greatest wish is to be reunited with him, and for this whole thing to be over as soon as possible," Li said. "I think [Zhang Jun] is just trying to pre-emptively deflect the blame here, which is ridiculous."
Li said she still plans to file an official complaint with the Supreme People's Procuratorate on Friday.
"Ever since my husband was detained as part of the July 2015 crackdown [on rights lawyers and activists], danger has been my constant companion," she said. "Of course I worry about what will happen when I go to make my complaint tomorrow, but ... I can't not do it out of fear."
"Wang Quanzhang is still not free, and is still being held under illegal detention, so I will continue to do this on every day that he isn't released," Li said, adding that the authorities had put pressure on seven attorneys she hired to represent Wang since July 2015.
'No basis in reality or law'
Fellow rights attorney Sui Muqing said Zhang's comments made no sense.
"There was no basis in reality, nor any basis in the actual law," Sui said. "In fact, there would be no benefit in delaying the case to Wang Quanzhang, and even if you do keep changing lawyers, they have ways to stop you from doing that."
"Defense lawyers are supposed to be hired by the defendant or their family, but now the authorities insist on having that power themselves," he said. "This was one of the factors behind the repeated delays to this case."
Former rights attorney Tan Yongpei said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never paid much attention to its own laws.
"The Communist Party doesn't care about the law; they'll hand out a harsh sentence even if you're not guilty," Tan said. "Zhang Jun's comments are an attempt to fool the world, but they never allowed any of Wang Quanzhang's lawyers to visit him."
"Cheng Hai and Lin Qilei made around 50 trips to Tianjin in 2017, and weren't allowed to meet with him once," he said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.