Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have indicted detained human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng on subversion charges, a London-based rights group said.
Yu Wensheng was indicted on Feb. 1 and his case handed over to the municipal prosecutor in Jiangsu's Xuzhou city, according to an Urgent Action brief on the website of Amnesty International.
His wife said she is now awaiting a trial date at the Xuzhou Intermediate People’s Court.
"Yu Wensheng’s lawyers ... have made 25 attempts to visit Yu Wensheng since he was taken away in January 2018, however all requests, without any clear or valid reason, have so far been rejected by the police," the Amnesty brief said.
"Without access to a lawyer of his choice, [we are] concerned that Yu Wensheng is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment," it said.
Police seized Yu on Jan. 19, 2018 after he released an open letter calling for amendments to the Chinese constitution.
Judicial officials had revoked his license to practice law three days earlier.
According to the overseas Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, Yu was initially held in Beijing, but later transferred to Xuzhou and placed under incommunicado detention on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power" and "obstructing officials in the course of their duties."
China recently passed a law allowing suspects to be held under "residential surveillance at a designated location" (RSDL) in cases allegedly involving matters of state security.
The measure, which enables the authorities to deny access to lawyers or family visits, has been repeatedly used to target human rights lawyers, and is associated with a higher risk of torture and other mistreatment, rights groups said.
Amnesty urged its members to call on the Chinese authorities to release Yu "immediately and unconditionally."
"He has been detained solely for peacefully exercising his human right to freedom of expression," the statement said.
Prior to his arrest, Yu had represented a number of high profile human rights cases, including members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and fellow human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was similarly detained on subversion charges.
He was formally arrested by the Xuzhou police department on Apr. 19, 2018.
If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment for the subversion charge, if the circumstances are deemed particularly serious by the court.
'Opposing party rule'
Shortly before his detention, Yu's application to start a new law firm was rejected over comments he made "opposing Communist Party rule and attacking the country’s socialist legal system," Amnesty International said.
Yu had earlier described being beaten up and tortured in handcuffs by police in Daxing after he voiced support for the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
"At the beginning, the officers only abused him verbally. Later, they handcuffed him with his hands bound behind the back of the iron chair," Amnesty International said.
"He said that two police officers repeatedly yanked the handcuffs and he screamed every time they pulled them."
Yu Wensheng was detained once more in October 2017 after he wrote an open letter criticizing President Xi Jinping as ill-suited to lead China due to his strengthening “totalitarian” rule over the country, the group said.
"His family and friends believe that Yu Wensheng’s current detention is related to this open letter," it said.
Yu's detention came amid a nationwide police operation targeting more than 300 human rights lawyers, law firm staff and rights activists that began with a raid on the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm and some of its principal lawyers, including Wang Yu, on July 9, 2015.
Ten of those detainees have been jailed on subversion or public order charges since, Amnesty said.
In August, United Nations human rights experts called on Beijing to repeal regulations allowing the use of RSDL, because they were in breach of China’s international human rights obligations and commitments.
Previously, the Committee against Torture in its Concluding Observations had also expressed concern about RSDL.
Reported by Zhu Dan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.