A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer held in an unknown location on suspicion of subversion is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, an international rights group has warned.
Jiang Tianyong, who went missing on Nov. 21 in the central city of Changsha, is now confirmed by police as detained under "residential surveillance in a designated location" on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."
But London-based Amnesty International has issued an urgent alert on Jiang's case, saying that he is judged to be at risk because his whereabouts are unknown, and he has been refused permission to meet with a lawyer or family members.
"Jiang Tianyong is a well-known human rights lawyer, whose activism resulted in him being disbarred in 2009," the group said in an "Urgent Action" notice.
"He has since continued his work as a human rights defender, despite suffering ongoing harassment, detention and physical beatings," it said.
It called on its members to press for Jiang's immediate release, and to urge the authorities to protect him from torture or other ill-treatment.
Jiang should also be granted access to his family, a lawyer of his choice and adequate medical care, it said.
Jiang's father Jiang Lianghou said the family is extremely concerned about him.
"Who wouldn't be worried? It has been more than a month, nearly two months, and we still don't know where he is," he told RFA in an interview earlier this week.
Detained in Changsha
Jiang is currently being investigated for "fraudulent use of identification," "illegal possession of state secrets," and "illegally providing state secrets," official media have reported.
He was detained by China's railway police at Changsha Railway Station while attempting to use someone else's ID card to buy a ticket for the D940 express train back to Beijing, and initially held under administrative detention.
Jiang's father Jiang Lianghou received an official notification on Dec. 31 from the Changsha municipal government that his son is being held under a specific type of "coercive measures" linked to state security charges, which allow the authorities to hold a suspect incommunicado for up to six months under criminal law.
Their lawyer, Chen Jinxue, said his requests to meet with Jiang had been refused by the Changsha police department.
"The grounds for refusal was that a meeting could hinder the investigation or leak state secrets, but that is far too vague," Chen said in a recent interview.
"I wanted them to be more specific about what state secrets might be leaked as a result," he said.
Meanwhile, a court in Shanghai has agreed to accept a crowdfunded lawsuit alleging that media reporting of the detention had defamed Jiang, sources told RFA.
The family is suing the Procuratorate Daily, the Southern Metropolis Daily, The Paper, and the Legal Daily newspapers, among other outlets, for damaging their son's reputation and prejudicing due legal process.
The acceptance of the libel suit by Shanghai's Jingan District People's Court comes after similar lawsuits were rejected by courts in Beijing and Guangzhou.
"I hope this gets as far as a hearing," Chen told RFA after the decision was announced. "But there are no guarantees that the process will get that far; they still have the option to reject it as inappropriate."
"We tried to file at the Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing and at the Yuexiu District People's Court in Guangzhou," Chen said.
"They wouldn't take the cases [we] filed there; they wouldn't accept any files, nor issue any documentation about it whatsoever," he said.
Fengrui law firm raid
More than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists and relatives were detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions since police launched a nationwide crackdown on the profession with a July 9, 2015, raid on Beijing's Fengrui law firm.
Fengrui lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that even some of those detained and later released on "bail" remain under restrictions, and haven't returned to normal life since.
"The criminal case against them has lapsed after a year, so the authorities can no longer prosecute them," Liu said. "From a legal point of view, they should be at liberty, but they haven't come back to the firm to take up their old jobs."
"They dare not come back, and basically there's nobody working here at Fengrui anymore," he said. "It exists in name only."
At least 16 remain in criminal detention on subversion charges, while four have been handed jail terms of up to seven years, according to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
Many others have been denied access to lawyers, and to family visits.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.