Updated at 2:30 p.m. EST on 2012-07-06
Chinese rights activists linked to veteran democracy activist Li Wangyang, whose death last month in police custody by "suicide" sparked widespread public suspicion, are being investigated by authorities over their involvement with a campaign for a fuller investigation into his death.
State security police visited Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong and Hubei-based democracy activist Shi Yulin this week, questioning them about their involvement with the campaign, Jiang said.
"They asked me if I had taken part in the Li Wangyang affair, because there was a support group that had my name enrolled on it," Jiang said. "They wanted to know who was in charge of it."
"They didn't tell me to withdraw, because I have told them in the past that I will always want to express my views on matters to do with human rights and the law," Jiang added.
Calls to Shi Yulin's number went unanswered during Thursday daytime, however.
Meanwhile, Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Guo Feixiong said his colleagues Tang Jingling and Liu Weiguo had also been summoned by state security police for questioning, while Beijing-based Xiao Guozhen was also called down to the police station.
"This shows that the authorities are beginning to see the work of law firms as taboo," Guo said. "But the law firm knows how to stay on the right side of the law."
"If the authorities had really stayed within the law, they would have made a public statement and set up an independent investigation."
Guo said he believed the best option was for everyone to abide by the law.
"That includes myself...I don't know what sort of trouble I will run into in the next few days," he said. "I will wait and see what happens."
Guo's colleague, Tang Jingling, said he hadn't been in contact with Li's relatives since a meeting with them on June 8, two days after Li was found "hanged" by his hospital bed.
He said the whereabouts of Li's close friend and supporter Zhu Chengzhi were still unknown, even after his administrative detention had ended. Zhu is believed to be held in the Shaoyang Detention Center, but his location has yet to be verified, Tang said.
"The authorities are using secret detentions with no legal documents," Tang said. "Zhu Chengzhi played a very important role in the aftermath of Li's death, and the authorities will definitely want to get revenge on him."
Zhu was among several activists seized on June 9. He was subsequently given a 10-day detention on a charge of "disrupting social order" after casting doubts online about how Li died, according to the overseas-based group China Human Rights Defenders.
Calls to Zhu's wife's cell phone also went unanswered during daylight hours on Thursday.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said he and a number of other activists were busy gathering documentary evidence and had already launched an independent investigation into the cause of Li's death.
"Here in Beijing, we have met with friends of ours who have been to [Shaoyang] and who are connected to Li Wangyang so as to understand their take on things and their direct experience," he said.
Rights groups in Hong Kong have also petitioned Beijing's central government liaison office in the territory, calling for the release of Li's sister Li Wangling, his brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu, and Zhu Chengzhi.
Thousands of people have signed an online petition, joining growing calls for a government probe into Li's death, after official claims that he killed himself while in police custody were disputed by friends, relatives, and rights activists.
The petition, which was initiated by veteran journalist and blogger Wen Yunchao and a number of Hong Kong-based pro-democracy groups, is indicative of a growing mood of public outrage and suspicion surrounding Li's death.
The signature campaign follows a demonstration by thousands of people in Hong Kong who carried symbols of mourning for Li and who called for a full investigation into his death.
Li Wangyang, 62, died at a hospital in Shaoyang city in the custody of local police on June 6. When relatives arrived at the scene, his body was hanging by the neck from the ceiling near his hospital bed, but was removed by police soon afterwards.
Relatives, friends, and rights groups have all called into question several details of both circumstance and timing which they say point to the possibility of foul play, including photographs distributed on the Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo, which showed Li’s feet touching the floor.
Police took away Li’s body after his death was discovered and have kept it in an unknown location, Li's relatives said.
Li's death came as Chinese authorities moved to crack down on dissidents and rights activists around the country, in a bid to prevent any public memorials on the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 military crackdown on the student led pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Li, a former worker in a glass factory, was jailed for 13 years for "counterrevolution" after he took part in demonstrations inspired by the student-led protests in Beijing, and for a further 10 years for "incitement to overthrow state power" after he called for a reappraisal of the official verdict on the crackdown.
He was blind in both eyes and had lost nearly all his hearing when he was finally released from prison in May 2011, his family said.
Chinese activists have since begun issuing statements via Twitter pledging that they would never commit suicide, in an attempt to stymie any future attempts to do away with them.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.