Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained an outspoken journalist who has criticized the abuse of detainees at the notorious Masanjia labor camp, according to a top Beijing rights lawyer.
Former Beijing News editor-in-chief Cao Baoyin was criminally detained by police in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai on Tuesday, on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," according to rights lawyer Zhou Ze.
"I have just learned from his wife ... that the Fengtai district police also came to their home and searched it, taking away computers, disks, books, and other items," Zhou wrote via a popular microblogging site.
Cao, who has also spoken out in favor of equal access to education for the children of migrant workers in major Chinese cities, was taken away by police in the eastern city of Nanjing after he went there to take part in a TV show, local media reported.
Cao was detained after he and other parents had protested the closing of an experimental reading program at an elementary school in Fengtai, with some parents pulling their children out of class, according to an Associated Press report on Thursday.
After leaving Beijing News, Cao set up his online television current affairs show CaoTV, which he used as an outlet for his incisive and critical views of current affairs.
Last April, he made a half-hour special dedicated to the revelations of abuse in the Masanjia labor camp in northeastern China.
"We can't say our country is civilized until we treat prisoners in a civilized manner," Cao said during the show. "Otherwise, it doesn't matter how much money we have; we'll always be a brutal country."
The program was soon deleted from China's tightly controlled and censored Internet.
Hangzhou-based freelance journalist and current affairs commentator Zan Aizong said Cao had been detained for speaking the truth.
"Some journalists treat the media as a cash cow for their own interests, but there are some who dare to speak out and then become the targets of persecution," Zan said.
"Some truths can ruffle feathers in local governments, for example, and so [the journalists] are accused of 'stirring up trouble.'"
"If anyone is detained just for their opinions, or for exercising their right to supervise government, then we should speak out on their behalf and work for their release," Zan said.
Some netizens hit out at Cao's detention in tweets posted on Thursday.
"Picking quarrels and stirring up trouble is a sort of throwback charge that can easily be abused," @naimodelingleisiwei wrote.
And user @wangyumingmingda added: "Why has Cao been detained? Picking quarrels and stirring up trouble is a catch-all charge, and anyone could have it pinned on them."
"He came across as a fearless independent journalist who dared to speak the truth and didn't care who he annoyed in doing so," the user added. "This is so scary!"
User @wangxiaoshan agreed. "I can't get my head around this at all," the user wrote.
"I was so surprised when I heard the news ... I can't image what crime Cao Baoyin is supposed to have committed; he is so moderate as to be a bit naive."
Former inmates have detailed a regime of daily torture and abuse, failure of medical care, and grueling overtime at Masanjia, a police-run facility where women regarded as troublemakers by the authorities were sent without trial for up to four years at a time.
China's National People's Congress (NPC) voted on Dec. 28, 2013, to end the system of administrative punishments known in Chinese as "re-education through labor," or laojiao, but lawyers and inmates' families say many of the camps are still in operation under a different name.
China has cracked down on a number of high-profile journalists and tweeters in recent months, including veteran journalist Gao Yu, who was accused of "leaking state secrets" after she wrote a report for an overseas website.
Gao's televised "confession" was aired by state broadcaster CCTV in May after she was detained on April 24 on suspicion of "leaking state secrets overseas."
Gao was formally arrested on May 30, and there has been little news of her case, which is believed to be in the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's state prosecutors.
"There haven't been any recent developments," a friend of Gao's who asked to remain anonymous told RFA on Thursday. "However, her brother Gao Wei is able to deliver clothes to the detention center where she is being held."
Top Beijing-based rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was detained shortly after Gao following a seminar in Beijing marking the 25th anniversary in June of the 1989 crackdown on unarmed civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is also being held on similar charges, his lawyer said.
"Normally, if they are holding someone and having trouble gathering enough evidence, they can extend the detention period by one month after two months," Liu Xiaoyuan told RFA.
Such an extension would mean Pu should have been released on Sept. 13, he said.
"But if that's not enough, they can extend it by a further two months," Liu said. "If they haven't let him out, that means they must have extended it."
"If the case hasn't moved to the prosecution, and he hasn't been bailed, then it has definitely been extended," he said.
Meanwhile, authorities in the central city of Zhengzhou have turned down a request for bail by relatives of detained rights lawyer Chang Boyang.
Henan-based Chang was allowed to see lawyer Feng Yanqiang for a two-hour meeting inside the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center on Thursday,
Chang, who was detained after trying to represent the "Zhengzhou 10" group of detained Tiananmen activists, two of whom have since been release, has asked his provincial lawyers' body for help, Feng said.
"The Law Society said they are extremely concerned about the case of Chang Boyang," he told RFA.
Fellow attorney Pang Kun said the authorities had dreamed up a case against Chang "out of nothing."
"If we believe in the law, then Chang Boyang is innocent," Pang said. "Not only that, he's an excellent lawyer."
Reported by Qiao Long and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan and Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.