After 18 months in detention, a court in the southern province of Sichuan has announced that Chinese rights activist Huang Qi and two other activists will be put on trial June 20. However, concerns about Huang's health persist in what rights groups and his mother maintain is a politically motivated trial.
Huang, who founded the 64 tianwang (Skynet) rights website, is being held along with Chen Tianmao and Yang Xiuqiong on suspicion of leaking state secrets to foreign entities — an ill-defined charge often used by the Chinese government to clamp down on dissent.
Huang, 55, has been in and out of jail since he became China's first cyber-dissident to be sentenced in 2000. At that time, he was jailed for five years on state subversion charges as a result of articles posted on his website that were critical of the Chinese government.
In 2009, he served another three-year sentence for possessing state secrets after he published complaints about the collapse of poorly-built school buildings during the deadly earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan in 2008.
His mother and international rights groups have warned of his deteriorating health, fearing that he may die in the police-run detention center.
Earlier this week, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Beijing for a visit, the European Union called for Huang's release along with several other human rights defenders.
"He hasn't received timely and effective medical treatment during his 520-day detention, which led to the rapid deterioration of his health," Huang's 85-year-old mother Pu Wenqing told VOA.
"He has edema in his face, both arms, legs and feet, an indication of his severe kidney failure. He has also lost more than 20 kilograms," added Pu, who is a doctor.
Officials at the Mianyang Intermediate People's Court in Sichuan could not be reached to comment on the case or request for medical parole.
Authorities have repeatedly rejected requests to release Huang on medical parole, but his mother continues her efforts, demanding the detention center provide her son with a healthy diet that is low-fat, low-sodium and protein-rich.
Huang previously told his lawyer Sui Muqing that he further suffers from hydrocephalus, heart disease and emphysema.
Late last year, rights groups reported that he had been tortured and beaten by police.
Authorities have not commented on the allegations.
According to media reports, citing Sui, Huang said that he had been forced to stand for up to six hours a day over a period of several weeks for the police's interrogation in order to get him to confess to his alleged crimes.
Huang has reportedly said a"forced confession would only happen over my dead body."
During Thursday's hearing, which lasted nearly six hours, Huang insisted he is innocent.
"We know for sure that Huang has been wrongfully charged," his lawyer Li Jinlin said. "But the fact that one of those documents or reports provided by petitioners is now classified as top [state] secrets and led to the arrest of several people shows that someone [powerful] is manipulating [Huang's case] from behind the scenes," he added.
The lawyer's repeated applications to review classified materials have been rejected by the Mianyang City's procuratorate, citing China's law on guarding state secrets.
But Li argued that it is "ridiculous" to classify materials presented by petitioners to authorities, whose nature should be public information.
Without access to classified materials, including a dozen digital discs, lawyers will be denied rights to practice law and defend for his clients, Li added.
Huang's legal representatives have demanded the court re-assess if those materials should be classified as top state secrets before Huang stands trial.
However, Li said he has scant hope for Huang to walk free after next month's trial even though the trio's act is not only legal but has done no harm to society.
Huang's mother is also worried authorities "fabricated" classified materials that will lead to Huang's guilty verdict.
"He has truly leaked no state secrets. Huang had reported nothing but facts presented by petitioners about cases of death and injuries due to forced demolitions and evictions in Sichuan as well as the collusion between government officials and business owners," Pu argued.
Pu said Huang's activism has led to his divorce. Friends and relatives have also cut ties with the mother-and-son.
"Every day, I bathe my cheeks with tears. On no charge, I was also taken in police custody for 19 days after the night Huang was arrested," she said.
"I'm a doctor. They went to my hospital, telling everyone that I'm a political prisoner so as to alienate them from me. My relatives were also coerced into distancing us," she added.
Despite that, Pu said \she took pride in her son's integrity and bravery.
Huang's activism has won him recognition from the U.S. government and many international rights groups, which have long urged China to free the activist.
Reporters Without Borders awarded Huang the Cyber-Freedom prize in 2004 while the Wei Jinsheng Foundation honored him as a co-awardee of Chinese Democracy Campaign Prize in 2008.