An outspoken lawyer was forcibly sent back to China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Wednesday, after challenging a ban on her return to her home in Shanghai, according to a supporter and her attorney.
A man surnamed Xiao, who escorted Li Tiantian from the southern city of Shenzhen by train to Shanghai, confirmed that authorities had detained her upon her arrival in the city.
“After the train stopped at the Shanghai South station, national security police and plainclothes police officers closed in on Li Tiantian and took her away,” Xiao said.
Later that day, Liu Xiaoyuan, the attorney who represents Li, posted on Twitter that she had been forced onto a train bound for Xinjiang from Shanghai.
Her family is now calling for her release.
Detention and relocation
Li had been practicing law in Shanghai until this past February, when police took her in for questioning over cyber posts celebrating the Egyptian people’s overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.
One of dozens of dissidents and lawyers rights groups say the government has detained amid fears of a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by recent uprisings in the Middle East, Li was interrogated and then kept in detention.
Li was kept in a room without windows until her release on May 28.
When she was set free, authorities informed her that her place of residence had been registered in Xinjiang, where she was ordered to relocate.
She was told that she would not be permitted to return to Shanghai for three months and warned that she could no longer publish comments on the Internet.
But Li continued to post messages online via various microblogging sites while in Xinjiang and on July 2 announced that she would return to Shanghai, even at the risk of being jailed or killed.
Train to Shanghai
Earlier on Wednesday, Li traveled to the train station in Shenzhen with six of her supporters, including Xiao, who would escort her to Shanghai.
“The police expelled me three times from Shanghai in the past. I tried twice to return but failed,” Li said in an interview with RFA after boarding the train.
“I need to go back to Shanghai to take care of the lawsuits I was working on,” she said.
“The police are shameless, because I even promised them that if returned to Shanghai I would remain silent. But I also warned the authorities, I would risk anything to get back to my home.”
While on the train, Xiao spoke with RFA about why he had decided to accompany Li to Shanghai.
“I cannot sit idly by while a lawyer is refused the right to return to her own home,” he said.
“The police are abusing their power.”
Rights lawyers targeted
Last July, as part of a larger focus on restructuring China’s blogging services, authorities targeted the specific blogs of several prominent rights advocates.
Officials in Shanghai removed dozens of articles posted to a blog by Li Tiantian, who wrote about it on Twitter.
At the time, Li said she was likely to be fired if the boss of her law firm was called in to "drink tea" with police over her writings on her blog and on Twitter.
In Beijing, authorities also censored the blogs of two prominent rights lawyers: Liu Xiaoyuan's, with 250 articles removed overnight, and Teng Biao's.
Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all blocked in China, unless netizens use circumvention tools to gain access.
According to China's Online Public Opinion Monitoring & Measuring Department of the People's Daily online, 23 out of 77 key news stories during 2009 were broken by netizens.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.