Authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan have detained a reporter on charges of "illegal detention" after he became involved in a forced eviction dispute, his relatives and lawyer said Monday.
"I visited him this morning, although there was very little time," said Li Huiqing, a lawyer acting on behalf of Caixin Media reporter Chen Baocheng, who was reported on social media last week as having been detained by police in his hometown of Pingdu city, Sichuan.
Li added: "He was in a good state of mind, and he thanked everyone for their concern and support."
He said he had already applied for bail for Chen, who was detained after helping villagers to make a "citizens' arrest" of a bulldozer driver who was about to demolish their homes.
According to Li, Chen was detained last Friday following the standoff. Villagers reported the bulldozer driver for illegal demolition, but police took no action, he said.
"I don't think there is a crime to answer here ... so I think they should allow bail under the provisions on bail in the Criminal Procedure Law," Li said.
"Chen's ... analysis is that ... he is being detained as a precautionary measure ... and this illegal detention charge is being cooked up against him."
An employee who answered the phone at the Pingdu municipal police department declined to comment, saying the department's fax machine was broken, and unable to receive queries.
Caixin Media issued a statement on Sunday after also failing to confirm the details of Chen's detention with Pingdu police.
"Caixin is closely following the detention of Chen," the group's legal affairs department said in a statement carried on its website. "We call for restraint and for all parties to act rationally."
It added: "Actions should fall within the framework of the law. We hope that the authorities in Pingdu can disclose information in a timely manner and handle the case with justice and transparency."
The statement said Chen's detention came after he had covered forced evictions of local people by officials and property developers in Pingdu.
"The demolition disputes in Pingdu, Chen's hometown, have garnered broad public attention for several months," Caixin Media said.
"In February, when Chen was home to attend his grandmother's funeral, he was attacked by a group of unidentified people."
It said the Pingdu authorities had yet to respond to calls from Caixin Media for an investigation into the attack on Chen.
Chen's wife Li Xiaobo said the February attack had used a car traveling at high speed to slam into Chen.
"He was beaten up at the end of last year, and then there was the flying car incident in February," she said. "They have used all kinds of methods to take revenge on him."
Top Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who is also part of Chen's legal team, said forced evictions were an increasingly emotive issue for Chinese people, and unprecedented even compared to imperial times.
"There has never been a dynasty like [the ruling Chinese Communist Party], which grabs land from ordinary people on a national level, and pulls down their houses, nor one in which the government is so closely bound up with evil developers, to the extent where they become enforcement mobs for their interests," Pu said.
He dismissed as trumped up the charges of "illegal detention" against Chen.
"This is a journalist who understands the law," Pu said. "People were protecting their own homes from illegal demolition, and the government did nothing when they called the police."
"People suddenly show up and start arresting them, and they say they were illegally detaining people? It's crazy," he said.
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to communities under collective contract under a system that replaced state-run farms and communes under late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
Press freedoms came under greater attack in China last year, amid increased government censorship and attacks on individual journalists, according to media experts and rights monitoring groups.
China has one of the world's worst records on press freedom, with controls on state-run media and netizens showing no signs of abating, according the Paris-based global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
China, which RSF said it is "the world's biggest prison for Internet users," ranked 173rd out of 179 countries in its 2013 World Press Freedom Index.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.