Authorities in the Chinese capital have confirmed they are holding a top human rights lawyer under criminal detention on public order charges, searching his home and denying him visits from a defense attorney, RFA has learned.
"According to Article 80 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the People's Republic of China, this department has placed Yu Wensheng ... under criminal detention as of 1:00 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2018, on suspicion of obstructing public servants in the course of their duties," Yu's notice of criminal detention said.
The notice, a copy of which was sent to RFA, was issued by the Shijingshan branch of the Beijing police department, and dated Jan. 20.
Yu's wife Xu Yan said her husband hasn't yet been allowed a visit from a lawyer.
"I [went to] the Gucheng police station in Shijingshan, and they gave me a notification of criminal detention," Xu said. "[Yu] has already been transferred to the Shijingshan Detention Center in Beijing."
"They are saying that there was physical resistance when they went to detain Yu Wensheng, but I think that's just a pretext [for holding him]," she said.
Xu said attorneys Ma Wei and Song Yusheng, whom she hired to defend her husband, hadn't been allowed to visit him on Monday when they showed up at the detention center.
"When the lawyers arrived to see Yu Wensheng, the staff there told them to wait, because they were processing papers from other lawyers," Xu said. "Ma and Song then went to dispute this, and they were told they wouldn't be able to see [Yu] that day, and they made an appointment 48 hours later, for Wednesday."
But Xu said she isn't hopeful that the scheduled meeting will go ahead as hoped, either.
"Some of the other lawyers told me that there is no real reason for them to insist on a 48-hour gap; that a defense attorney should be able to show up and be allowed a meeting on the same day," she said.
"I am very worried that something is going on with this 48-hour delay, and I hope people will keep following it," Xu said, adding that she was also prevented from topping up her husband's account in the detention center, so he can buy daily necessities from its store.
"To start with, they said it was because the computer system hadn't yet issued him with a card, but I don't know how to get such a card; maybe it's the card he uses to buy stuff," she said.
She said she believes the charge is a trumped-up one, and that the real reason for Yu's detention was an open letter he wrote last Thursday ahead of the second plenary session of the Communist Party's central committee.
The letter called for an end to party control of China's People's Liberation Army, exercised via the Central Military Commission, and to the parliamentary advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which the letter said has no basis in the country's constitution.
Yu was detained the morning after he published the letter online.
Beijing-based rights activist Zhang Baocheng said the police had searched Yu's home on Saturday.
"They are searching right now, and won't allow [the family] to open the door," Zhang said from outside the apartment as police searched it. "I can't get in ... there are two plainclothes cops in their living room, watching me."
Xu Qin, a spokesperson for the Hubei-based rights group Rose China, said dozens of people had signed Yu's letter to China's leaders after he posted it.
"The latest figure is 54 signatures," Xu said, adding that Yu has been unjustly detained. "Yu is a former rights lawyer whose license to practice was revoked, and yet all he ever did was fight for Chinese citizens to enjoy the protection of the law."
Yu, 51, has defended a number of clients in politically sensitive human rights cases in recent years, including forced evictees and the families of victims of a tainted vaccinations scandal in the eastern province of Shandong.
In 2014, he was held by police for 99 days for showing public support for the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong.
Yu was stripped of his professional license to practice after he joined the defense team for detained fellow lawyer Wang Quanzhang, held in the northern city of Tianjin amid a nationwide crackdown on more than 300 lawyers and rights activists that began in July 2015.
Reported by Qiao Long and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.