Chinese authorities have formally arrested a prominent rights lawyer and her husband on subversion charges, six months after they and other attorneys and activists were detained, her lawyer told RFA.
Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun were among the first of a group of lawyers at the Beijing Fengrui law firm to be detained on the night of July 9-10 last year, kicking off a nationwide police operation that detained or questioned more than 300 lawyers and their associates.
Wang's mother received formal notification of the couple's arrest by registered post on Wednesday, Wang's lawyer Li Yuhan said.
Wang is being charged with the more serious charge of "subversion of state power," while Bao's arrest is for the lesser charge of "incitement to subvert state power," Li said.
"I spoke to Wang Yu's mother by phone today, and she said she has received the documents relating to Wang Yu and to Bao Longjun," Li said. "Wang Yu is being held at the [Tianjin] No. 1 Detention Center, and Bao Longjun is in the No. 2 Detention Center."
Li said she plans to apply to meet with Wang, but has had her own lawyer's business license revoked.
"It's not just people being detained; their lawyers are also having their licenses revoked," she said.
"Subversion of state power" carries a minimum jail term of 10 years in cases where the person is judged to have played a leading role. Jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is currently serving a 13-year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power."
Wang and Bao are currently being held in separate detention centers in the northern port city of Tianjin after being detained at their home in Beijing.
Their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, was detained in northern Myanmar after trying to escape overseas to attend college after being handed an exit ban by police, and is under close surveillance at his grandparents' home in a northern suburb of Beijing.
Li said Bao Zhuoxuan is safe and well, but emotionally affected by his parents' detention and unable to speak to the media.
Of 38 Fengrui lawyers, employees and other associates held at the start of the crackdown, three have been released on bail at the end of a six-month "residential surveillance" period, while many others are facing formal charges related to state security.
Rights lawyer Xie Yanyi, who was detained on July 12 last year, is also being formally arrested on subversion charges and held in Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center, while the legal assistant to rights lawyer Li Heping, Zhao Wei, was formally arrested on the same day, and is being held in the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center.
Meanwhile, one of the firm's lawyers, Huang Liqun, its financial officer Wang Fang, and intern Xie Yuandong had now been released on "bail," although they have remained incommunicado.
Fengrui boss Zhou Shifeng was also formally arrested on Jan. 8 on suspicion of "subversion of state power" by Tianjin police and is now detained at Tianjin No.1 Detention Center.
His lawyer Yang Jinzhu told RFA on Wednesday that Zhou had reportedly "confessed" to the charges, and fired him, a move which can take place as part of a plea bargain with the authorities.
But Beijing rights lawyer Li Fangping said the report came from the Tianjin police department, and should be regarded with suspicion.
"[They] said that Zhou Shifeng has already hired a new lawyer, but Zhou's family said he had done no such thing," Li Fangping said.
Wang Quanzhang and Li Shuyun, both Fengrui lawyers, are also now formally arrested on charges of "subversion of state power," and are being held at the No. 2 and No. 1 detention centers respectively.
More arrests expected
Meanwhile, Hunan Province rights lawyer Xie Yang was formally arrested on Jan. 9 on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," and is being held in the No. 2 Detention Center in the provincial capital, Changsha.
More formal arrests are expected to follow, if detainees haven't already been released on bail, lawyers said.
"We haven't received notification yet, I don't know why," Ma Lianshun, lawyer for detained Beijing rights lawyer Li Heping, told RFA on Wednesday.
"Naturally, I'm not optimistic about this. Both Zhao Wei and Gao Yue have both been formally arrested, and they were Li Heping's assistants," Ma said.
"So of course I don't hold out much hope for Li Heping."
The head of the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Albert Ho, said he is "shocked and angered" by the fresh charges against the lawyers.
"These are people who used rational and peaceful means to express their point of view on these matters, to criticize government policy," Ho said.
"They totally have the right to do that, so how can that be subversion of state power?"
"It's beyond belief that they are using these methods to target lawyers," Ho said. "This will do a great deal of damage to China's international image."
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.