Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have formally arrested the founder of a rights website on state secrets charges while detaining a writer who criticized widespread air pollution on suspicion of subversion.
Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, was formally arrested by the state prosecution office in the provincial capital Chengdu in recent days on charges of "illegally supplying state secrets overseas," local activists told RFA.
"Huang Qi is currently being held in the Mianyang Detention Center, and his mother received notice of his formal arrest on Dec. 16," Chengdu-based petitioner Li Zhaoxiu told RFA. "The charge is illegally supplying state secrets overseas."
Huang's 83-year-old mother Pu Wenqing went missing after Huang's home was searched and her son detained on Nov. 28.
Li said Pu was taken to hospital after the incident, and escorted home by the authorities on Dec. 16.
"I spoke to Huang Qi's mother [recently]," she said.
Lawsuit over ‘illegal actions’
Meanwhile, Huang's lawyer Li Jinglin is expected to arrive in Chengdu at the end of next week to represent him, as requested in writing by Huang before his incarceration.
"Huang Qi had previously instructed Li Jinglin as his lawyer, so I expect he will be arriving from Beijing," fellow petitioner Zhou Jun said.
She said Pu is now safely home. "She is a bit better now ... and she told us petitioners not to worry about her," she said.
"I expect I will be going there on Dec. 26," Li Jinglin said in a brief interview on Wednesday. "I will visit his mother first, so get a clearer picture of the situation, and then I will go to Mianyang, if it is confirmed that that is where he is being held."
"I will proceed on the basis of his previous written instructions," he said.
The Tianwang website carried a statement vowing to sue the Sichuan provincial party secretary Wang Dongming and provincial police department for "their illegal actions in pursuing the Chinese rights group Tianwang."
"We will pursue those who are responsible all the way," it said.
Huang, 51, was detained and his home raided by police officers from the provincial capital Chengdu and the earthquake-hit regions of Neijiang and Mianyang.
He had already served a sentence of three years in prison from November 2011 after launching an investigation into shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of deaths during a massive 2008 earthquake.
Writer Hai Di detained
Last week, Chengdu police also detained writer Wang Fei, who goes by the pen-name Hai Di, at the railway station before searching his home and taking him away.
Hai Di's wife, who gave only her surname Feng, said he is currently being held in the Shuangliu police station on the outskirts of Chengdu and investigated for "subversion of state power."
"I demanded documentation of his detention from the police, but they refused to give it to me," Feng said. "They said he is being detained on suspicion of subversion of state power."
"They said they weren't issuing a notice of criminal detention because apparently it would compromise their investigation," she said.
Hai Di frequently posted articles on current affairs, and his writings had gained a following on social media, Feng said, adding that he had recently criticized the government's handling of air quality after Chengdu was shrouded in toxic smog last week.
"Hai Di would write articles and post them online, most quite critical and sharp, attacking society, especially its darker side," she said.
"He also had a lot of followers, and people would come and visit him to pay their respects," she said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Huanglongxi police station, nearest to Hai Di's house, declined to comment when contacted by RFA.
Repeated calls to the Chengdu municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
His lawyer Lu Siwei confirmed the charges against his client, and his location in Shuangliu county.
"Frankly, there's very little we can do right now, except watch ever move the police make," Lu said. "But the police can just ignore us."
He said if Hai Di isn't released within 37 days, then the authorities are likely to proceed to formal arrest.
He said Hai Di's writings didn't amount to subversion.
"There was some social criticism in there, and his personal opinions, but it didn't amount to an attack on [the ruling Chinese Communist Party], or on the political system as a whole," Lu told RFA. "
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.