Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have placed a prominent rights activist under "residential surveillance" at an unknown location after he visited the grave of executed Mao-era dissident Lin Zhao.
Zhu Chengzhi has been incommunicado since Apr. 29, when he was taken away from the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery on the outskirts of Suzhou, alongside fellow activists who laid wreaths to mark the anniversary of Lin's execution for alleged counterrevolutionary crimes under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
His daughter, who lives in Hangzhou, received notification from police on Monday that her father is now under "residential surveillance" on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," Hunan rights activist Yi Zhengan told RFA.
"We don't know where he is being held under residential surveillance," Yi said. "We think it may be in Suzhou, but we can't be sure. His wife thinks it may be in a hotel."
"We can't visit him if we don't know where he is being held," he said.
"Residential surveillance at a designated location" can be used for up to six months in cases the authorities say are linked to state security.
Zhu hails from the central province of Hunan, but was detained during the trip to Lin Zhao's grave.
State security charges like subversion and "revealing state secrets," are increasingly being used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and are also used to justify denying access to a lawyer or family visits.
Rights groups say that detainees held in secret locations are at risk of torture and other forms of mistreatment.
Zhu's defense attorney Huang Zhiqiang was denied permission to visit his client by officers at the Wuzhong district police department in Suzhou on Tuesday.
Repeated calls to Huang's phone rang unanswered on Wednesday.
An officer who answered the phone at the Cangshu police station in Suzhou on Wednesday declined to comment.
"The police have a process in place for journalists wanting interviews," the officer said. "You need to get in touch with our press office. We can talk to you when we have received authorization to do so."
‘They have no scruples’
Hunan-based activist Chen Siming said he was very angry about his friend's treatment.
"I am very angry about this, because the Chinese government often uses such tactics to target dissidents," Chen said. "They just detain people whenever they feel like it; they have no scruples."
Chen said he believes that the commemoration of Lin Zhao was just an excuse, and that the authorities are seeking to silence Zhu.
"Four people went to commemorate Lin Zhao on Apr. 29, and they released the other three on the same day," he said, adding that Zhu became one of China's most prominent rights activists after he spoke out about the death in police custody of labor rights activist Li Wangyang in 2013.
Zhu has previously been held on suspicion of subversion after he questioned the official verdict of suicide in Li's death.
A Chinese police investigation into Li's death in June 2013 upheld an earlier verdict of suicide, despite widespread public doubts about the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old hanged himself.
Lin Zhao, whose birth name was Peng Lingzhao, has long been a poignant symbol for Chinese dissidents and democracy activists, but she has since also become a focal point for the country's army of petitioners, ordinary people who pursue complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party through official channels.
A writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Lin was a star student at the prestigious Beijing University's Chinese language department in the 1950s, before being branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in 1957 for her criticism of then-supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.
She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36 after her sentence was changed to the death penalty because she refused to plead guilty.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.