Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou have criminally detained a top rights lawyer on public order charges after he went missing for 11 days, according to his attorney.
Yang Maodong, better known as Guo Feixong, is being held on charges of "incitement to disturb public order," his lawyer Sui Muqing said.
Guo had recently been involved in high-profile public protests including one by journalists at the Southern Weekend newspaper over censorship and activities by the New Citizens' Movement against official corruption, Sui said.
"We managed to confirmed that he was detained on Aug. 8, around the time that he lost contact with me," he said. "I am now hurriedly making an appointment to go and visit him later this week."
Sui said Guo had likely been in some danger during the days he was held incommunicado.
"If something happens, and it's safe for him to do so, he will tell me," Sui said. "If he is unable to get in touch, in means he must be in some danger."
Guo, who was released from jail in September 2011 following a five-year jail term, has previously been subjected to extrajudicial detention and torture.
Guo, whose wife and two children were granted political asylum in the United States in 2009, rose to prominence during a 2005 campaign by the people of Guangdong's Taishi village to recall their elected chief amid allegations of corruption.
He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 2006 by a Guangdong court for "illegal business practices" after repeated beatings and detentions did little to deter his rights campaigns.
Repeated calls to the Tianhe district police branch office in Guangzhou went unanswered on Sunday.
Calls to Guo's own cell phone resulted in a message saying service had been terminated, while calls to his sister resulted in a message saying her phone was switched off.
A second member of Guo's legal team, Lin Qilei, said Guo's detention was one of dozens nationwide linked to growing calls on China's ruling Communist Party officials to reveal details of their wealth.
"These citizens' movements really terrify the authorities," Lin said. "There were suddenly a large number of 'dinners' organized up and down the country in a very short space of time."
"The authorities' response is to use a highly oppressive approach, in the absence of any other effective means to resolve social conflict," he said. "They just start detaining people."
"Guo Feixong's detention is likely in revenge for [his involvement] in the Southern Weekend episode, but they are detaining people in large numbers around the country in a systematic manner," Lin added.
Earlier this month, detained civil rights activist Xu Zhiyong, who is being held at a Beijing detention center on public order charges after calling on China's leaders to reveal their assets, called in a smuggled video message on ordinary Chinese to take a stand to protect the rights of citizens.
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, defended the detention of Guo and Xu in a recent editorial.
Such activists "do things based on their own judgment rather than considering whether they are legitimate or not or whether they benefit social governance or not," the paper said.
It hit out at foreign media for "glorifying" activism like Guo's and Xu's by calling them "pro-democracy activists."
"Fierce confrontations go contrary to society's fundamental interests," the paper said.
Overseas rights groups estimate that at least 23 activists linked to the New Citizens' Movement are now criminally detained across China in a crackdown which has seen more than 50 detentions and short-term administrative sentences since March.
In addition to Guo and Xu, they include Hubei activist Liu Jiacai, Shenzhen-based activist Yang Mingyu, known as Yang Lin, and Hunan-based activist Li Huaping, known by his online nickname Nuowei Senlin.
In January, hundreds of people gathered outside the offices of the cutting-edge Southern Weekend newspaper in Guangzhou in an unprecedented show of solidarity with protesting journalists after official censorship at the paper sparked a public outcry.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.