Authorities in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian have transferred the subversion case of a prominent free speech activist known as "the Butcher" to the northern port city of Tianjin, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Wu Gan, 42, was initially detained last year and handed a 10-day administrative sentence, before being placed under criminal detention on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," "libel,"
and "incitement to subvert state power."
According to his lawyer Wu Kuiming, who is still trying to find out where Wu is being held, the "libel" charge was later dropped and his case transferred to Tianjin.
Wu Kuiming said it is likely that the authorities are now treating him as part of the nationwide crackdown begun on lawyers and rights activists on July 9, 2015 with a raid on the Beijing Fengrui law firm.
"His formal arrest notification number is 24, while [Beijing rights activist] Hu Shigen's is 21, [Fengrui] boss Zhou Shifeng's is 22, while [rights lawyer] Li Heping's is 23," Wu Kuiming said.
While police in Wu's home province of Fujian recommended state prosecutors formally arrest him, and critical articles about him have appeared in China's tightly-controlled state media, his case may have been transferred in a bid to put further pressure on him, he said.
Not giving in
"He hasn't given in, and he has refused to confess to these crimes," Wu Kuiming said. "If he had cooperated, they would definitely have put him on [state broadcaster] CCTV."
"From the authorities' point of view, the best possible outcome is that they agree to go on CCTV [for a televised confession],” he explained. “The fact that they haven't done this [to Wu] means they are having trouble getting a confession out of him.”
Wu's initial detention came as he staged a performance protest he titled "selling my body to raise funds" in Nanchang city, Jiangxi province.
He was trying to help finance a legal defense for four men who rights campaigners say were wrongly jailed by a court in Jiangxi's Leping city in 2000 for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.
A May 28 article in the state-run news agency Xinhua attacked Wu Gan for his criticism of the police killing of a man at the Qing'an railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang earlier the same month.
Rights activists say Wu likely first drew the ire of the authorities when he posted online his doubts about the credibility of the government’s investigation of the shooting.
Fighter for social justice
Zhejiang rights lawyer Yan Huafeng said Wu also launched his own investigation into what he believed was a gross miscarriage of justice in the Leping case, collecting video and audio testimony from witnesses and posting them online.
"From what we know of him, we see the Butcher as man who is passionate about social justice, who loves a good fight against injustice," Yan said.
"He got himself quite deeply involved in the Qing'an [police shooting] and that's probably the point at which he fell afoul of someone in authority," he said.
"I think that his actions on the whole were beneficial to society, or aimed at resolving social conflicts."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.