A prominent human rights lawyer has penned an open letter to the leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party calling for an amnesty for political prisoners and democratic reform.
Xie Yanyi, who was among hundreds of lawyers and associated rights activists detained during a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession since July 2015, said he wrote to President Xi Jinping and members of the all-powerful Politburo standing committee because he believes a democratic future is the only viable one for China.
"I just wanted to speak truthfully ... this is something that concerns everyone, and everyone shares responsibility," Xie said. "I am still optimistic about the future."
"I believe that people, whether they be the highest leaders within the current system or my compatriots, want the best for our country and for it to complete its transformation into modernity," he said. "We want to move past dictatorship and towards civilization."
The letter accuses the authorities of perpetrating a "conspiracy" against the country's rights lawyers and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), citing repeated allegations by detained lawyers and activists of torture and mistreatment.
In the letter, Xie points to huge capital outflows from China to overseas bank accounts, adding that more than 200 members of the Communist Party's Central Committee or their relatives are now holders of foreign passports.
Cases brought during President Xi's anti-corruption campaign targeting high-ranking "tigers" like former police chief Zhou Yongkang and former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai made no dent in the overseas holdings of those individuals, Xi's letter said.
"The authoritarian elite are afraid, and try to cover up the rot and impose long-term controls on the internet because they don't want Chinese people to find out the truth," Xie wrote.
Xie, who is currently on "bail" after being detained during the July 2015 crackdown, said he is aware that the letter may get him arrested again.
"If they are willing to throw me into prison because of my words, then that wouldn't be my choice," he said. "But if that is the case, then we are in still in a prison even if we're not in jail. There's not a huge amount of difference, and so I am willing to go to jail."
Lawyer still missing
Meanwhile, the friends and family of another outspoken human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, say he is still missing, believed detained, from house arrest at his cave dwelling in a remote village in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi.
Gao, 53, went missing from his home near Shaanxi's Yulin city early on Aug. 13 after being repeatedly denied permission by the Chinese police to see a dentist for treatment after losing several teeth to torture and neglect during his incarceration.
Social media posts suggested his disappearance might be linked to an interview Gao gave recently to Hong Kong's Chengming Magazine, in which he talks about "the destruction of the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping's mission."
Gao has also published a book detailing the abuse he endured at the hands of the authorities during his time in prison, and has described being repeatedly tortured when he was secretly jailed at a "military site" during one of many disappearances.
Activists say his continuing house arrest even after being "released" from jail mirrors the treatment meted out to fellow rights lawyers and activists detained in a nationwide police operation since July 2015.
Calls to the Xijia county police department in Shaanxi rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
Call for support
Fellow activist and friend Ai Ming said that Gao now needs the concern of rights groups and the international community more than ever.
"I hope that the international community will take action in support of Gao Zhisheng and his supporters living in China," Ai said.
Gao's friends had previously said he is unlikely to regain any measure of freedom before the ruling Chinese Communist Party's 19th Congress on Oct. 18.
Gao began to be targeted by the authorities after he defended some of China's most vulnerable people, including Christians, coal miners, and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.