Updated at 5:00 p.m. EST on 2014-02-10
Prominent Chinese dissident Xue Mingkai, who publicly questioned the official verdict of suicide in his father's recent death, is believed to have been taken into custody by the authorities after being incommunicado for the last four days, activists said Monday.
Xue Mingkai, from the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, lost contact with friends and family last Thursday after he said he would travel to his hometown of Qufu to carry out funeral rites for his father, who died in suspicious circumstances the previous week.
"Everyone is very worried about Xue Mingkai right now," rights lawyer Zhang Junjie told RFA's Mandarin Service. "We haven't been able to get in touch with him [by any means]."
"However we analyze it, it is likely that he is in danger," Zhang said.
He said Xue had been cut off abruptly during online communications with a friend or family member in the early hours of Thursday morning.
"Then he left the place where he was accessing the Internet, and there has been no trace of him since," Zhang said.
Father found dead
Xue had been in hiding after his father Xue Fushun was found dead on Jan. 29 after falling from the Qufu Municipal Procuratorate building, which houses the city's state prosecution service.
The family has said publicly that Xue Fushun was unlikely to have killed himself, and that they suspect he was beaten to death.
Xue and his wife, Li Na, had been expected in Qufu on Thursday afternoon, according to Anhui-based rights activist and friend of the family Qian Jin.
Repeated calls to Xue's cell phone resulted in a "switched off" message on Sunday.
"Xue Mingkai told me that same day he was planning to [return] to Qufu, which meant that he had publicly announced where he was," Qian said.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised if he has been detained."
Meanwhile, Hubei-based veteran rights activist Qin Yongming said he had been following Xue's last known movements very closely.
"There are some details which I can't make public, but we can be totally sure that he has been 'disappeared,'" Qin said.
He said fellow activists had tried to warn Xue and his wife to leave their hotel immediately, as the authorities were hard on their heels.
"Xue Mingkai said he had already left the hotel and that he hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary," Qin said. "But we lost contact with him after he set off for the railway station."
Nowhere to hide
Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said Xue's location was likely pinpointed by police after he used the popular chat service QQ to send out a message.
"You can tell someone's location immediately after they send a message," Jiang said. "And Xue had already called a number of friends on his new cell phone number."
Qin said ordinary citizens had nowhere to hide from the authorities in today's China.
Xue Fushun's death has sparked a widespread campaign by rights activists in recent days for details of his death to be made public.
But so far, police have merely removed those who approach them requesting information from Qufu, putting them on trains back to their hometowns.
Rights lawyer Lin Qilei said there were now plans to file a lawsuit against the Qufu police department.
"We want to sue the Qufu police, on the one hand for illegal detention, because they detained Xue Mingkai's parents from Jan. 23 to 29," Lin said.
"Also, we want to sue them for deliberate harm leading to death, and another for the kidnapping [of Xue's mother]," he said.
Xue Fushun's wife Wang Shuqing, who has publicly criticized the official verdict of "suicide" after her husband's body was found at the foot of a building housing the state prosecution service, is currently being detained by police at constantly changing locations, and is cut off from contact with the outside world, activists said.
Police had detained Xue Fushun and his wife in late January, and the elderly couple were beaten inside the procuratorate building after they briefly escaped detention and tried to hide there, they said.
In April 2011, Xue Mingkai was formally arrested on charges of incitement to subvert state power and was later jailed until September 2013 on the same charges.
His arrest came after he and fellow activist Wei Shuishan traveled to Zhejiang's Zhaiqiao village to carry out an investigation into the death of elected village chief Qian Yunhui.
Zhejiang authorities sentenced a truck driver to three-and-a-half years in prison after he ran over Qian with his truck, but ruled the popular land rights activist's death an accident.
Xue had already served 18 months in prison between May 2009 and November 2010 for "subversion of state power" after he tried to set up a Workers' Democratic Party for migrant workers in Shenzhen, and then later joined the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP).
Wang Shuqing served a one-year sentence of "re-education through labor" after she tried to appeal his earlier sentence, and was "disappeared" for an unknown period after his second arrest.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story left out the name of Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong.