Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have charged a former student leader in the 1989 pro-democracy movement with subversion, RFA has learned.
Zhou Yongjun was initially detained last August in Guangxi's Dongxing city, near the border with Vietnam.
He has now been formally indicted for "incitement to subvert state power," and his case has been sent to state prosecutors in Fangchenggang city.
Zhou is scheduled to meet with a lawyer on Monday. Hunan-based rights lawyer Xie Yang told RFA he would be willing to represent him if instructed by Zhou's family.
"I myself have been arrested for incitement to subvert state power, and I would be very happy to help them, if that is a possibility," Xie said.
Tan Yongpei, a former rights attorney stripped of his license by the local justice bureau for taking on too many "sensitive" human rights cases, said the "subversion" charge is a catch-all crime.
"It's a catch-all crime that can be used to fit anything," Tan said, adding that Zhou has served a number of prison sentences ever since his initial involvement with the pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square.
"He only just got out [from the last one] in 2015, and five years have to elapse for him not to be considered a re-offender," Tan said. "He could get five years on this charge, but he could also get 10."
Zhou was a prominent figure on Tiananmen Square in 1989, and was photographed by international media kneeling on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in a plea for China’s communist leaders to heed student calls for political reforms.
He was arrested and jailed for two years in the subsequent crackdown on student protesters in June 1989, losing his university place and his Beijing "hukou," or residence permit.
Zhou fled to Hong Kong and then traveled to the United States in 1993, living in New York City and Los Angeles.
He was detained again in 2009 for using a false passport to visit his ageing relatives after the Chinese consulate refused to renew his passport and imprisoned on a fraud charge. His lawyers said Zhou was tortured in detention and denied family visits.
Zhou had also tried to visit China once before in December 1998 but was arrested in Shenzhen and spent more than two years in a labor camp.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.