Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have handed a 10-day jail term to a man who joined a campaign to allow the daughter of a local dissident to attend school.
Sun Lin was sentenced to 10 days' administrative detention, which can be handed down by police for minor offenses without the need for a trial, his wife Gao Xiaojun said after the couple took part in protests in support of dissident Zhang Lin and his 10-year-old daughter.
"Right now I am extremely worried about him, because has always been someone who wants to write for the historical record," Gao said in an interview following her own release after a 24-hour period in detention.
"The authorities don't always like it, and he could be a target of suppression."
Sun's detention came after more than 30 supporters of veteran pro-democracy activist Zhang gathered in the provincial capital Hefei to protest at the Feb. 27 removal of the dissident's daughter Anni from the Hupo Elementary School in the city by police.Anni has since been denied permission to return by the school's principal, who fears a similar incident could occur again, upsetting other parents and pupils, if police wish to target her father again.
Her case has sparked an outcry among Chinese netizens, with her story and photograph trending regularly on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo in recent weeks.
On April 8, activists from around the country converged on Hefei in a bid to escort Anni to school.
Some were set upon by unidentified men near the school gates, while others have volunteered to teach Anni, and staged relay hunger strikes in support of the family.
An online campaign by the rights group Frontline Defenders urged people to write to Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling on him to allow Anni to return to school immediately and unconditionally.
"These measures are not only solely related to Zhang Lin's legitimate human rights activities, but also constitute a direct transgression on the rights of Zhang Anni," the group said in a suggested letter.
Unknown number detained
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that while some of the activists had since been released by police, some families had still heard nothing of their loved ones.
He said it was hard to be sure at this stage exactly how many people had been detained.
"We will probably have to wait until they are released," said Liu, who recently traveled to Hefei to try to find out what happened to Zhang Lin's supporters.
"I heard that a lot of people who were detained were actually from the local area, while those from out of town were escorted back [by police or officials]," he said.
"We are still figuring out the numbers."
Some netizens tweeted the news of further detentions of activists via Sina Weibo, saying that Yao Cheng had been sentenced to 15 days' administrative detention, while Zhou Weilin and Chai Binwen had each been sentenced to 10 days.
The whereabouts of an activist known only by his online nickname Dr. Yichun were unknown.
On April 10, a letter apparently penned by Anni appeared on the popular Tencent Weibo microblogging service, calling on first lady Peng Liyuan for help.
“A lot of uncles and aunties who are worried about me wanted to take me back to school, but the teachers in my school said no," said the letter, dated April 10.
"I really want to go back to school, Grandma Peng," it said. "Please could you and Grandpa Xi [Jinping] tell the policemen and the teachers to let me?"
The campaign for Anni's schooling has sparked protests and detentions elsewhere in China.
Calls to the cell phone of Shenzhen-based rights activist Yang Lin went unanswered on Wednesday, after he was taken away by police from outside the municipal government buildings, where he had put up a placard in support of Zhang Lin and his daughter.
Liu said Zhang and his family had been targeted by police, who used the fact that the family's household registration was in the smaller city of Bengbu, not in Hefei where they had recently made their home.
"My analysis is that the Hefei police weren't happy that [the family] moved to Hefei," he said.
"If [the little girl] goes to school there, then Zhang Lin will have to live there, and he would become the responsibility of the Hefei police from the point of view of 'stability maintenance,'" Liu said.
"They wanted to force him to go back to his original hometown to lessen the pressure on themselves," he said.
China's nationwide "stability maintenance" system, which now costs more than the People's Liberation Army, tracks the movements and activities of anyone engaged in political or rights activism across the country.
Under this system, activists and outspoken intellectuals are routinely put under house arrest or other forms of surveillance at politically sensitive times.
Zhang, 50, said on Tuesday that his home had been under tight police surveillance since the detentions of his fellow activists.
Zhang, a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Anhui, has served more than 13 years in prison on subversion charges for his political activities since the banning of the opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.