Authorities in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan have detained an environmental activist who lent his support to protests against the building of a controversial coal-fired power plant on the tropical island's coast, according to a close friend.
Communist Party veteran Liu Futang has been a vocal opponent of the estimated 1.9 billion yuan (U.S. $301 million) nationally commissioned infrastructure project, which was opposed by thousands of residents of Yinggehai township in Hainan's Ledong county during a consultation exercise earlier this year.
He has now been detained pending investigation of charges of "conducting an illegal business," Liu's friend, a Yinggehai resident surnamed Wu, told RFA's Cantonese service.
"Liu Futang's family have only received a notice of criminal detention," Wu said. "It says that Liu Futang is being detained for illegally operating a business."
Liu was taken away by police from a local hospital after he sought treatment for high blood pressure on July 20.
"He has been transferred to a judicially controlled hospital under police supervision," Wu said. "He hasn't been formally arrested yet, so I can only assume the police are trying to collect evidence for this so-called crime."
Hainan authorities last month renewed plans to build the power station on the coast near Yinggehai, sparking renewed clashes with local residents and a vow by protesters to continue the campaign to have the project canceled.
Liu, who isn't himself a resident of the town, traveled there in April to hear residents' views, as well as to gather expert opinions on the siting of the plant, Wu said.
He criticized the project as presenting a threat to the local environment and ecosystem, writing about his opposition to the project via China's popular microblogging services.
Now, Yinggehai appears to have lost its champion, a member of the ruling Communist Party who challenged central government directives from within its own ranks.
"It is hard for all of us to understand how they could have pinned this crime on him," Wu said. "We think it has to do with the fact that Mr. Liu came to Yinggehai a while back and kept posting evidence to back up his opposition on the microblogs."
"He printed out some of his posts and had them made into a small leaflet," Wu added. "They included an account of villagers' opposition to the project."
"[I think it was] the Hainan provincial-level leadership [who had him arrested.]"
Repeated calls to Liu's son went unanswered on Wednesday. According to Wu, he was deliberately avoiding giving media interviews for fear of making things worse for his father.
The family has now hired a local lawyer to represent Liu, but little progress had been made in the case so far, Wu added.
"All of us have a lot of respect for him, because he was one of the first to speak out on our behalf," he said. "He said they shouldn't build the coal-fired power plant ... and after he left, he was illegally detained."
"This just shows how much pressure the authorities are bringing to bear ... This is a miscarriage of justice, and the authorities are trying to keep everything under wraps."
Hainan authorities have changed their minds several times about the location of the plant since January, when it met with fierce opposition from residents of Yinggehai, who clashed with police on a number of occasions.
The planned site then moved to Foluo and Huangliu townships in the same county, meeting with similar resistance there earlier this year.
When protests against the plant escalated in Foluo township in April, one website reported residents had stormed a government building and smashed up offices and dormitories.
Residents reported dozens of injuries from beatings and tear gas at the hands of riot police amid clashes sparked by a number of earlier arrests over opposition to the project.
The government said last month that the project, which was initially proposed in 2007, but wasn't formally approved until last November, would go ahead in Yinggehai as previously planned.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.