Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan have 'disappeared' a prominent pro-democracy activist and his wife ahead of the 25th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown next month, activists said on Monday.
Wuhan-based dissident Qin Yongmin, who has already served a lengthy jail term for helping to found the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP), was taken with his wife Zhao Suli from their home by state security police officers on Sunday, friends and fellow activists said.
Qin, 57, a veteran dissident who also served time in the wake of the 1981 "Democracy Wall" movement, was last in online contact with activists late Saturday, according to rights activist Li Yong.
Li said it was unusual for Qin to disappear without warning, however.
"In the past, whenever the state security police have taken him away, there would always be a phone call," Li said. "This time, there was no news at all."
"We are guessing that this is linked to June 4," he said, referring to next month's anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student-led pro-democracy movement.
"He hasn't been to any activities in Wuhan recently ... Ever since he was released [from jail] the last time, his behavior has been totally reasonable," Li said.
"He has been exercising his individual rights under the Constitution."
Chinese authorities have detained and questioned dozens of activists and family members of victims of the crackdown in recent weeks, after some gathered at a seminar to mark the sensitive 25th anniversary and to call for an official reappraisal of the protests.
In the eastern city of Hangzhou, fellow CDP member Chen Shuqing said the authorities are getting increasingly nervous that the anniversary may spark renewed unrest among political activists.
"I think this has to do with June 4," Chen said. "He won't be allowed home until after that date."
He said the fact that Zhao had been detained alongside Qin suggested the couple may be being held under close police surveillance at a tourist resort, rather than being charged with any crime.
"They have already taken Qin Yongmin on a number of 'vacations' lasting 10 days or more," Chen said.
He said that any formal detention should result in an official notification.
"If it was criminal detention, they would have to notify his family members," he added.
Liu Xinglian, secretary of Qin's China Rights Observer group, declined to comment on his "disappearance," however.
"I can't talk to you right now, you understand?" said Liu after being contacted twice by RFA on Monday.
"Let's chat when it's more convenient for us to talk," he said, in an apparent reference to police surveillance. "I'm sure you know what I mean."
Call for dialogue
In February, Qin called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to enter into "peaceful dialogue" with Chinese citizens or risk the fall of the regime in a manner similar to that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
In an open letter to President Xi Jinping, Qin said there currently exist no official bodies in China charged with the protection of human rights, and called on the government to set up a human rights ministry.
Around 20 human rights lawyers, academics, and family members of victims attended a May 3 seminar in Beijing, where they called for a public inquiry into the crackdown on unarmed civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Some of those questioned were subsequently released, but Pu Zhiqiang and four other activists—online writer Liu Di, social scientist Xu Youyu, house church leader and democracy activist Hu Shigen, and Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian—were formally detained on public order charges.
On Friday, prominent rights lawyer Tang Jingling was also detained on charges of "causing a disturbance," the sixth activist who attended the seminar to be charged with public order offenses.
Tang's lawyer Liu Zhengqing said he had yet to receive permission to visit his client in the detention center.
"It seems that the police station ... is using illegal tactics, and refused me permission to visit him on Friday," Liu said, adding that he had repeated the request on Monday.
"I have put in an application today, so they must allow a lawyer to visit within 48 hours [of an application]."
Earlier jail terms
Tang's wife Wang Yanfang told RFA that her husband had recently taken part in memorials for Mao-era executed dissident Lin Zhao, and had attended the Tiananmen seminar.
Last December, Qin was briefly detained en route to Beijing to apply to register his China Human Rights Observer group with the civil affairs ministry in Beijing.
Qin was initially sentenced to eight years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and subversion" in the wake of China's Democracy Wall movement in 1981.
A contemporary of exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng, Qin served a further two years' "re-education through labor" in 1993 after he penned a controversial document titled "Peace Charter."
Qin then served a 12-year jail term for subversion after he helped found the CDP in 1998.
Hangzhou-based CDP founder Wang Youcai and Beijing-based Xu Wenli received 11-year and 13-year jail terms respectively at the same time, and were later exiled to the United States on medical parole.
China's leadership has ignored growing calls for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which the party has styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
The number of people killed when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but has never issued an official toll or list of names, and has always maintained that the violence was necessary to end the unrest.
The crackdown sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.
Reported by Xin Yu and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.