Two Chinese human rights activists are standing trial Friday on charges of "disturbing public order," becoming the latest dissidents to be prosecuted by Beijing.
Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng were arrested in August 2013 after taking part in rallies outside a newspaper that had complained of government censorship.
The trial began Friday in the southern city of Guangzhou. Those who face such charges are almost always found guilty and sentenced to several years in prison.
Ahead of the trial, Human Rights Watch called for the two to be immediately released, saying the activists are "allies in strengthening the rule of law, not enemies of the state."
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) also slammed the charges, saying the men were arrested "for exercising their rights to free speech and assembly."
Zhang Lei, one of Guo's lawyers, confirmed on social media that the trial had began, but said the court had barred them from bringing computers into court and that authorities had stifled or forcibly dismissed any arguments or objections Guo or his lawyers raised in an “intense” morning session.
Zhang couldn't be reached on his mobile phone for comment.
Security was tight outside the Guangzhou People's Court, with scores of police blocking roads. Foreign media and diplomats were barred from observing the trial, while local activists and supporters were taken away by police, according to witnesses.
The activists are both writers known by their pen names. Guo's real name is Yang Maodong. Sun's real name is Sun Sihuo.
The two helped lead protests in support of media freedom and democracy outside the offices of the outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper, which was forced by the Communist Party to censor an editorial early last year.
The Communist Party, China's ruling party, is in the middle of what is seen as its worst crackdown on dissent in years.
CHRD says the prosecutions show that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also Communist Party chief, has no plans to loosen the party's "control on the legal system as its weapon to silence and punish human rights and democracy advocates."
Material for this report came from Reuters.