Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi said on Monday that one of three labor activists detained after they investigated working practices at two factories supplying shoes for Ivanka Trump's own brand, has "met with an accident," his lawyer told RFA on Monday.
Hua Haifeng, Li Zhao and Su Heng were detained on suspicion of "illegal use of monitoring equipment," and are currently being held in the Ganzhou Detention Center in Jiangxi's Ganzhou city, lawyer Wen Yu, who was hired by Hua's wife to represent him, said.
"I went there today to apply to meet with my client, but they said Hua Haifeng had met with an accident in his cell, and I couldn't see him," Wen said.
"The head of the detention center told me to get in contact with the agency in charge of the case, so I went to the police station for the Ganzhou Economic & Technological Development Zone, and they told me that the state security police officer in charge was away on business," he said.
"They said I had better go and meet with my client as soon as possible, so I went back to the detention center, whereupon the state security police officer in charge of the case reappeared," Wen said.
"He told me that they were arraigning Hua, and that I wouldn't be able to meet with him until after the arraignment."
But Wen, who was unable to confirm the details of Hua's "accident," said he believed the arraignment was a flimsy excuse.
"They were just stripping him of his right to see a lawyer," he said.
According to the U.S.-based rights group China Labor Watch, Hua, Li and Su had been investigating labor conditions at factories that produce shoes for Ivanka Trump, the daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, and other Western brands.
"We appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself, and to her related brand company to advocate and press for the release our activists," the group said in an email to Reuters last week.
Wen made a similar appeal on Monday.
"I hope that either Ivanka Trump or the U.S. government will ask the Chinese embassy to clarify the situation, especially whether or not Ivanka Trump has ordered clothing or shoes from this factory in Ganzhou," he said.
"Also, whether or not they had anything to do with the detention of these people, who were working to protect the rights of [Chinese] workers," he said.
Reuters also reported that the Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment when contacted last week, while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did know anything about the situation.
Rights group Amnesty International called for the release of the three if they were held only for investigating possible labor abuses at the factories.
"Activists exposing potential human rights abuses deserve protection not persecution," China researcher William Nee said.
"The trio appear to be the latest to fall foul of the Chinese authorities’ aggressive campaign against human rights activists who have any ties to overseas organizations, using the pretense of 'national security'."
In April, labor activist Han Dongfang hit out at foreign brands for not paying closer attention to pay and conditions for Chinese workers in their supply chain.
He said the government's jailing of four labor rights activists from the Panyu Workers' Service Center in the southern province of Guangdong last year was the first time the government had retaliated on behalf of a business.
The activists had been "assisting workers to engage management in a successful case of collective bargaining," Han said in a report published in April.
"These global brands [supplied by the workers in the dispute] all have ... standards that include clauses on workers’ rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association," Han said.
"But this time, when workers in China organized themselves and engaged in collective bargaining to ask for their fair share and faced retaliation from the company, these global brands have chosen to look the other way," he said.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.