Authorities in China are holding two rights activists in criminal detention after a crackdown on a nationwide voluntary organization supporting political prisoners across the country.
Activist Zhong Xiaolin is being held on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power" by authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen.
And Sun Wenke is being held in the southwestern city of Chongqing on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," RFA has learned.
Their detentions came amid a wider crackdown on more than 100 members of a network of volunteers called the "National Tourism Group" coordinating donations for prisoners of conscience in China's jails and detention centers.
Shenzhen-based rights activist Huang Meijuan said that many of the original detainees had likely been released with a warning, or under bail restrictions, for cooperating with the authorities.
"If you refuse to admit any wrongdoing when they call you in for a chat, then they start to get really tough on you," Huang said. "Some people react by taking a stance, and just saying exactly what they want when it comes to recording the 'confession'."
"Such people are very likely to wind up with criminal charges against them," she said.
Huang said the authorities had required other members of the group to confess to "attacking the government, the party, and its leaders," and to pledge never to do it again, before releasing them.
Calls to the Shenzhen police department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
No news of detainee
A fellow group member surnamed Luo said there has been very little information emerging about Sun's case in Chongqing, either.
"There has been no news of Sun Wenke," Luo said. "His family haven't received any notification, and the authorities have threatened them, so they don't dare meet up with any of his friends."
"Nobody in the organization knows exactly where he is being held, in which detention center, or what his situation is," she said. "We can't find him, so his lawyer doesn't know where to go to meet with him."
"His family have been frightened into inaction, and they don't dare meet with us," Luo said. "Mostly lawyers don't dare take up these kinds of cases."
An officer who answered the phone at the Chongqing police department on Monday redirected inquiries to the legal department.
However, calls to the legal department rang unanswered during office hours.
Guo Qingjun, who founded the group and moderated it on the popular WeChat app, was detained by police in Jiangxi's Ganzhou city on April 11 on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," according to a copy of his detention notification seen by RFA at the time.
Group volunteers Liu Chunlin, Dai Xiangnan, and Li Xiaohong were also detained, along with volunteers identified only by their online nicknames Baoluo, Lubi, and Meizi Qingxuan, sources said.
The crackdown had targeted "hundreds" of people across China, and many of the targets were Protestant Christians, according to members.
Group may not survive
Wuhan-based rights activist Li Yong said he didn't see the group surviving.
"If the core activists have been suppressed now, then I think the group will just break up and disappear, because it has sustained so much damage in terms of loss of personnel," Li said. "The authorities were clearly alarmed by [its activities]."
The detentions came as China's civil affairs ministry said it had banned more than 300 "illegal social organizations" across the country that hadn't registered with the authorities.
The groups ranged from special interest groups for people practicing sports and hobbies, like martial arts, to associations for "public welfare," the ministry said in a recent announcement.
According to state news agency Xinhua, the crackdown on "illegal" social organizations will last until the end of this year.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.