Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi have jailed an outspoken social media activist for 10 days, while a second activist is being held at an unknown location after they tried to expose an official cover-up of a police shooting of a petitioner in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
However, it wasn't immediately clear whether their activism around the shooting had prompted both detentions, sources close to the two men told RFA.
Outspoken free speech and civil rights activist Wu Gan was detained on Tuesday after he made posters critical of the head of the provincial high court chief, a rights lawyer said on Wednesday.
Activist Wu Gan, known online by his nickname "The Butcher," was detained by police on his way to stage a protest outside the Jianxi People's High Court on Tuesday, lawyer Zhang Weiyu said.
"He said a couple of things that were insulting about [High Court chief] Zhang Xianhou, including putting his photograph on a sandwich board," Zhang said. "They said he was obstructing traffic and was verbally abusive."
Wu was handed a 10-day administrative sentence by police, which can be handed down to perceived troublemakers without the need for a trial, he said.
A photo of the billboards published by the overseas-based Chinese news website Boxun showed slogans next to Zhang Xianhou's photo calling him "lawless and without humanity," and "acting against the law, party discipline and natural reason."
He was arrested by police from the nearby Dayuan police station, an officer on duty confirmed.
"He is here," the officer said, but said he didn't know the reason for Wu's detention.
No access to evidence
Wu had been protesting against a decision not to allow Zhang Weiyu access to key evidence in an abuse of power rights case centered on Jiangxi's Leping city, Zhang Weiyu said.
Wu has also given numerous interviews to foreign media that were highly critical of tightening controls over freedom of expression under the administration of President Xi Jinping.
More recently, had had also posted video footage of the confrontation between Heilongjiang petitioner Xu Chunhe at the Qing'an railway station, after which a railway police officer allegedly shot Xu to death.
A fellow rights activist who declined to be named said he had been able to have brief conversations with Wu on the day of his detention, and had asked police the reason for his detention.
"The police didn't give a clear answer," the activist said, calling for Wu's release.
Wu had been helping Huang Zhiqiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe, who were jailed in Leping for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.
The four received suspended death sentences in 2000 that were later commuted to jail terms, but their lawyers and rights activists say their confessions were obtained through torture, and that the men are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Calls have been growing among China's embattled legal profession for a retrial, but high court chief Zhang Xianhou has so far refused permission for any lawyers to review the evidence files held in the provincial court archives.
Second activist detained
In an apparently related move, authorities in the eastern province of Anhui have detained rights activist Chai Baowen, who has been in hiding since taking part in a campaign for schooling for Zhang Anni, daughter of veteran dissident Zhang Lin who was denied schooling by the authorities before she fled to the United States.
Zhang Anni, who was dubbed China's youngest prisoner of conscience after being held under house arrest alongside her father, has since moved to the United States to pursue her education, but many of those who spoke out on her behalf and who helped her to escape have since been targeted by the authorities.
"Chai Baowen was taken away by the authorities in [Anhui's provincial capital] Hefei at 2.00 a.m. [on Tuesday]," an online activist known by his nickname Gongmin Xiaobao told RFA. "Chai Baowen had been worried they would arrest him after they sentenced Zhang ... and had been moving around in hiding."
"He helped out in the Zhang Anni incident, where he was very active, and now the authorities are taking their revenge," Gongmin Xiaobao said.
Chai, 43, had also sent out a tweet accusing two journalists from the official Xinhua news agency of taking bribes not to report on the police shooting of Xu Chunhe, he said.
"Two rotten-hearted reporters from the 'Something-Hua' News Agency turned black into white and wrote distorted reports after taking bribes from the relevant authorities of 38,000 yuan (U.S.$6,000)," Chai had tweeted before his detention.
Account shut down
Not long after the tweet was sent, Chai's microblog account was shut down, and the tabloid Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said the Xinhua journalists had filed a complaint about the tweet to police in Heilongjiang.
Chai's girlfriend Hao Xiaoqing told RFA she had learned of his detention after receiving a text message from him.
"I wasn't with him at the time; he just said he'd been detained," Guo said. "I've tried to call but I can't get through on either of his two numbers."
She said it was still unclear whether Chai is being held by police from Anhui or from Heilongjiang's Harbin city.
"They have been looking for him everywhere," Hao said.
Xu Chunhe was killed in a police shooting incident in front of his elderly mother and three young children at a railway station in Heilongjiang's Suihua city earlier this month, and while a police investigation has claimed he was in the wrong, the authorities have offered the family 200,000 yuan (U.S.$32,198) in compensation.
But Xu's mother, Qian Yushun, has hired lawyers to bring the officer who shot her son to justice, according to local media reports.
Reported by Yang Fan, Qiao Long, and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.