Chinese authorities have detained an activist who was accompanying detained veteran dissident Zhang Lin's family while they visited Shanghai to apply for a U.S. visa for Zhang's 10-year-old daughter.
Yao Cheng, a close friend of Zhang's, was taken away late Tuesday after more than a dozen police raided a hotel where he and the family were staying, Zhang's former wife Fang Cao said.
The family was in Shanghai to apply for a visa for Zhang Anni to leave China as a last resort after they were unable to secure a place in school for her during the new academic year.
Anni was removed from an Anhui province school in February, sparking protests that she was being punished for her father's activism.
Yao had been helping take care of the family while Zhang, a veteran activist with a banned opposition party, is held on public disorder charges stemming from a long-running dispute with the authorities over Anni's schooling.
In the raid, police from Anhui and Shanghai took Yao away in handcuffs, Fang said in an interview Wednesday.
"I don't know where they have taken him," she said. "I have no way of contacting him now, and Yao Cheng's family has had no official information, either."
"[The police] showed no documents, except the ID of the Shanghai police officers who checked the room," she said.
"I asked them why they were taking him away, and they said it had nothing to do with me."
Fang said the family had turned to relatives in the United States as a last resort after a school in Nanjing turned down their application for Anni.
"We are planning to send her to my aunt's family in America, so she can go to school there," Fang said.
Uncle Yao Cheng
Anni gave her own account of the raid.
"They said they had to check our [hotel] room yesterday evening at about 11:00 p.m., so my mother and sister showed their ID cards," she said.
"Then they came to check my uncle Yao Cheng's ID card. One of them said 'Yes, that's Yao Cheng,' and took him away."
"About 10 or 20 minutes later, they came back to uncle Yao Cheng's room to pick up his things, and then they left," Anni said.
Campaign for schooling
Zhang, a veteran activist with the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP), was formally arrested on Aug. 22 for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" following a dispute with the authorities after they pulled Anni out of primary school in February.
In April, Zhang and Anni left the provincial capital of Anhui for the family's hometown of Bengbu after more than 30 activists from around the country converged on Hefei in protest at Anni's Feb. 27 removal from the city's Hupo Elementary School by police.
The family was held under house arrest and Anni was still denied permission to attend school, prompting Zhang to escape house arrest to press his case with National People's Congress delegates in Beijing.
State security police brought the pair back to Bengbu amid firm promises that Anni could attend school and that no retaliatory action would be taken.
But the authorities swiftly moved against Zhang, holding him under criminal detention soon after his return, and prompting a lone protest from Anni outside the Bengbu detention center, where she held up a placard which read: "Release my father and let me go to school."
Anni said she was worried that the police would continue to detain the rest of her family.
Right to education
Fellow activist Kang Suping, who is tutoring Anni at home, said the authorities' action against Anni was unacceptable.
"Even if her father was a murderer, she would still have the right to an education," Kang said. "My motivation for helping her was that simple; I wanted her to have an education."
"She hasn't done anything [wrong]...She desperately wants to go to school, and I feel very sorry for her and her helpless situation."
"They should at least give the child a way forward."
The campaign for Anni's schooling sparked clashes with unidentified men in Anhui, as well as the detention of journalist Sun Lin, who filmed it for the overseas-based news website Boxun.
China's nationwide "stability maintenance" system, which now costs more to run than its People's Liberation Army, tracks the movements and activities of anyone engaged in political or rights activism across the country.
Under this system, activists and outspoken intellectuals are routinely put under house arrest or other forms of surveillance at politically sensitive times.
Zhang, 50, is a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Anhui and served more than 13 years in prison on subversion charges for his political activities since the banning of the opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.