Authorities in the Chinese capital have placed restrictions on the young son of a prominent human rights lawyer, preventing him from enrolling in primary school, his parents said on Wednesday.
Chen Jiangang, who helped to expose the torture of his client and fellow lawyer Xie Yang, said his eldest son has been prevented from enrolling in primary education—compulsory for all Chinese children—after the local police station put political pressure on the school.
Chen's wife Zou Shaomei said she had been told about police contact with the school by one of the teachers.
"The teacher told me directly that the school principal had had a phone call from the local police station," Zou said. "They didn't want our son to go to this school."
"It's not clear whether this is coming from the local police station or higher up," she said. "The teacher said that this is the first time the school has ever had anything like this happen, and they all thought it was very strange."
"I think the authorities are trying to threaten my husband," she said.
But police in Beijing's suburb of Tongzhou later denied that they were behind the decision, Chen said.
"This still hasn't been sorted out, and we are waiting to hear back," Chen said. "The police got in touch with us, and they refused to admit they had done this."
Chen said he didn't believe them, however, and thought that the move was a form of retaliation for his exposure of Xie Yang's torture while in police detention.
"His kindergarten class is visiting the primary school today," he said. "There were no problems when he was in kindergarten, because we hadn't had the Xie Yang case then."
"I don't know why the Tongzhou district police department would do something like this," he said.
Chen, Zou and the couple's two sons were all detained and escorted back to Beijing by state security police during a recent family trip to the southwestern province of Yunnan, sparking sharp criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva.
Fellow rights lawyer Chen Jinxue, who was hired to represent disappeared rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party's "thuggish" behavior.
"This is a thuggish way to go about things; they are trying to threaten Chen Jiangang," Chen Jinxue said. "In China, it's very common to see this sort of guilt-by-association [affecting families of dissidents]."
"This hasn't yet happened to my family, but this sort of chain reaction isn't something one can control or avoid," he said.
The U.N. hit out earlier this month at China's ongoing harassment of lawyers, through continued detention, without full due process guarantees and with alleged exposure to ill treatment, as part of a nationwide crackdown that began in July 2015.
It said the vast majority of rights lawyers detained or placed under surveillance or travel bans by China since July 2015 were defending the basic rights of Chinese citizens, mostly economic, social and cultural rights.
More than 300 lawyers, law firm staff and associated activists and family members have been detained, placed under restrictions or charged with crimes linked to state security, with dozens still under some form of detention or house arrest at an unknown location even after their 'release.'
Hong Kong-based political commentator Ching Cheong said China's state security apparatus has a substantial domestic spying component, dubbed "stability maintenance."
"In future, we can assume that there are people all around us who could be spying on us, informants," Ching, who served a five-year jail term for "revealing state secrets" as part of his job as a journalist, he said.
"We heard lately that Beijing is planning to train high-school students and students' associations to become spies," he said. "So we can see that the definition of 'harming state security' has suddenly expanded to encompass every aspect of life."
"This will naturally rely on large numbers of people becoming spies," he said.
The reports of Xie Yang's torture in police detention were slammed by China's state-run media as "fake news," but Chen stood by them, saying they were "totally accurate."
He has since been prevented from meeting with Xie, and police say he has been replaced with a government-appointed lawyer.
Xie has lodged a formal complaint saying that he was subjected to confinement in a "hanging chair" made of plastic chairs stacked high above the ground for hours at a time, so that his legs swelled up and he was in excruciating pain.
He was also deprived of sleep and repeatedly beaten, humiliated, and taunted with death threats against his family, according to his lawyers' notes.
Reported by Ding Wenqi for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to and Goh Fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.