Authorities in the Chinese capital have formally detained a local journalist for a Japanese financial newspaper on public order charges after she helped cover the detention of a top human rights lawyer, her relatives said.
Xin Jian, who worked as a news assistant—a post which often involves reporting duties—for the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper, was the latest person to be detained ahead of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
Xin, who was employed by the newspaper's office in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, was taken away from her home on May 13.
Chinese authorities have detained and questioned dozens of activists and family members of victims of the 1989 bloodshed after they held a seminar to mark the sensitive anniversary.
Around 20 human rights lawyers, academics, and family members of victims attended the May 3 seminar in Beijing, where they discussed the crackdown on unarmed civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Some of those held for questioning in the wake of the seminar were subsequently released, but top human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and other activists including online writer Liu Di, social scientist Xu Youyu, house church leader and democracy activist Hu Shigen, and Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian have been formally detained for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
'She's out of our hands'
Police initially told Xin's family that she was needed as a witness for questioning, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun told the Associated Press.
According to her relatives, Xin had helped reporters conduct interviews with Pu, a vocal rights advocate who had campaigned for the abolition of the "re-education through labor" camp system.
Xin's husband Wang Haichun said the family had canceled a planned news conference on her detention after "developments in the situation."
But he said it was "inconvenient" to give further details when contacted by RFA on Tuesday.
"Because she actually works for a news organization, you need to go through that organization," he said.
Asked if the family knew where Xin is being held and whether they are concerned for her well-being, Wang replied: "Things are OK on both those counts."
But he declined to give further details. "We have to protect Xin Jian, because she's out of our hands now," he said.
Chinese authorities have warned foreign journalists of "extreme consequences" if they report on sensitive issues ahead of the June 4 anniversary of the crackdown.
Rights activists said security measures and detentions have been far more widespread, and have begun much earlier, than was usual in previous years.
"The response by the Chinese authorities to the 25th anniversary has been harsher than in previous years, as they persist with trying to wipe the events of 4 June from memory," Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement on Wednesday.
Authorities in the central province of Hunan have also detained rights activist Li Zhengran on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," fellow activist Huang Yonghua said on Wednesday.
"When I was hauled in to 'drink tea' with the state security police, they let it slip that Li Zhengran was under criminal detention," Huang said, referring to an informal questioning procedure often used to target activists and government critics.
"He was pretty active in our circle here in this city," he said. "The authorities are using these catch-all charges to detain him as a preventive measure."
He said state security police had wanted to know whether he had plans to commemorate the June 4 bloodshed, whether online or offline.
Chinese authorities have already detained or placed under close surveillance the relatives of those who died or were maimed in the military crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.
Ding Zilin, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers victims group, is currently being held at an unknown location outside Beijing, and is being prevented from returning to her home in the capital, group spokeswoman You Weijie said.
Since 1989, Chinese authorities have suppressed any public efforts to commemorate victims of the crackdown, in which the army used machine guns and tanks against civilians, and to clear the square of hunger-striking students who had been encamped there for weeks amid swelling popular support.
Beijing's censors are also quick to clamp down on any online reference to the crackdown, and keywords linked to the incident typically return no search results on China's tightly controlled Internet.
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Li Youyi for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.