Fears are growing for the safety of top Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who went missing, believed detained, last week.
Jiang, 45, has been incommunicado since he traveled to Hunan's provincial capital Changsha a week ago to meet with relatives of lawyers detained in last year's nationwide crackdown.
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said Jiang is in poor health with very high blood pressure, as well as being at risk of torture.
"We are extremely worried and concerned about the possibility that he could suffer torture or other forms of inhumane treatment [at the hands of the authorities]," Teng told RFA.
"I think the authorities have likely got him under surveillance ... I'm certain he has been kidnapped by them; that's without doubt," he said.
"The government is always using these kinds of underhand mafia tactics on lawyers and rights activists," he said.
More than 60 lawyers have issued a statement calling on the authorities to investigate Jiang's "disappearance" after he failed to make the D940 express train from Shandong back to Beijing on Nov. 21.
"If Jiang Tianyong is under some form of coercive measures [such as residential surveillance], then the department in charge of the case should immediately issue written notification to his family," the statement said.
"His right to hire a lawyer and other basic rights must also be guaranteed," it said.
Call for explanation
Jiang's wife Jin Bianling, who is currently in the United States, told RFA on Monday that the authorities owe her and the rest of his family an explanation.
"Jiang has been missing for a week now ... and we want to call on the authorities to investigate Jiang Tianyong's disappearance," Jin said.
"They should give his family an explanation, including specific details about his location, and any crimes he is suspected of," she said.
Jiang is likely to have been detained in connection with his representation of lawyers held in a nationwide crackdown that began on July 9, 2015 with a police raid on the offices of the Fengrui law firm and the detention of its key lawyers, including Wang Yu, his associates have said.
Beijing-based Jiang lost contact with friends and family after he visited Chen Guiqiu, the wife of detained rights lawyer Xie Yang, in Changsha.
"I want more and more people to know about his case," Jin said, adding that the charges used to detain more than 300 lawyers, activists, and law firm staff in the July 9, 2015 crackdown were "ridiculous."
"There's no way they stand up from a legal point of view," she said.
'A serious violation'
Henan-based rights lawyer Chang Boyang, who was recently hired by Jiang's father to defend him, said he is very worried for his client's safety.
"Enforced disappearances constitute a very serious violation of the law, and of the rule of law," Chang told RFA. "If that is going to happen, then nobody feels safe."
"If he has really committed a crime, then they should follow due process in dealing with it, and inform the family," he said.
"This sort of thing flies in the face of what President Xi Jinping was saying about running the country according to law," Chang said.
Fellow defense lawyer Chen Jinxue said he had reported Jiang missing at the Western Railway Station police station in Beijing last week, and called on them to investigate surveillance footage from the cameras in the station.
But Chen's status as Jiang's lawyer hadn't been recognized by police, he said.
"It is an illegal requirement to ask for proof of the lawyer-client relationship, but his family have sent it over anyway," Chen said.
"We will be pursuing this matter further," he said.
German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel last week expressed "concern" at Jiang's fate, according to the country's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Jiang's disappearance came after he joined a group of lawyers, dissidents, and critical intellectuals who met with Gabriel during his visit to Beijing on Nov. 2 at the German Embassy in Beijing.
The lawyer has previously represented high-profile dissidents, including blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng, now living in the United States, and Christian rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
He was kidnapped by police in February 2011 and held for two months, during which time he reported being tortured and mistreated by his captors.
In March 2014, he was detained and beaten up by police to the extent that he lost eight teeth, after he tried to visits inmates of an extrajudicial "black jail" in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.
More than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists, and relatives have been detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions since the crackdown began.
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.
Balance of rights
New United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who is currently on a visit to Beijing, called on world governments to respect human rights.
China often clashes with U.N. bodies and envoys over its human rights record, and Guterres made the comments with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi standing beside him.
"In a world torn by war, a United Nations [should] enhance diplomacy for peace," Guterres said.
"In a world where so many rights are not respected, [we need] to make sure that there is an effective combination in human rights, of the civil and political rights and the economic and social rights in a balanced way," Guterres said.
Wang merely replied: "The U.N. is an effective platform for responses to global challenges and the central institution for international efforts to handle global affairs."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Ng Yik-tung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.