Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou have formally detained a prominent human rights activist on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," fellow activists said on Tuesday.
"I got the news that Chen Xi was formally detained just after I got home," said Li Renke, a fellow member of the group Guizhou Human Rights Forum, based in the provincial capital of Guiyang.
Li, Chen, and around 10 other activists from the same group were all detained around the same time at the end of last month.
"It seems they received the notice of detention for subversion on Dec. 11," Li added.
The detention notice was issued at noon on Nov. 29, and delivered to Chen's family on Sunday, Li added.
"Now there is no information at all, and we can't get through to his family," he said.
Police searched Chen's family home on Oct. 19, after he and Li decided they would attempt to seek nomination in forthcoming elections to district-level legislative bodies.
Chen was stopped after leaving his community electoral center with a memory stick containing some information from the center's computers.
Officials and police who searched his home at the time said he was suspected of having taken "secret" material from the center's computer systems. Chen's computer and memory stick were also confiscated by police during the raid.
Guizhou activists said all the phone services of the Forum's members, mobile and fixed-line, had now been intercepted by the authorities.
Calls to all the group's members were diverted to a recorded message on Tuesday, saying: "The service is unable to connect you."
While Forum members Li Renke, Xu Guoqing, and Chen Defu have already returned home from detention, the whereabouts of Liao Shuangyuan, Wu Yuqin, Huang Yanming, Zeng Ning, Mei Chongbiao, Lu Yongqiang, and Du Heping were still unknown, fellow activists said.
According to a notice issued on Dec. 2 by the Guiyang municipal police department, the Forum is operating outside the law.
"Owing to the fact that the Guizhou Human Rights Forum has not registered with the civil affairs department, it is [hereby declared] an illegal organization," the notice said.
The police statement was followed by a similar declaration on Dec. 5 by the municipal civil affairs department.
"It is hereby banned forthwith," the department announced.
Target of harassment
The Forum has been the target of official harassment since it was set up on World Human Rights Day 2005, with members subjected to police surveillance, detention, and house arrest whenever it tries to meet.
Beijing-based dissident Zha Jianguo said he was concerned at the latest developments in Guizhou.
"The Forum is a place for people to get together and discuss human rights issues," Zha said. "It is very moderate and rational, and it respects the laws of the land."
"If it has been banned, then yet another channel for peaceful collaboration and change has been shut off," he said.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.