Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have formally arrested human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng on subversion charges after holding him with no access to family visits or lawyers for more than two months, his wife said on Friday.
Yu, who is being held incommunicado by authorities in Jiangsu's Xuzhou city, was formally arrested for "incitement to subvert state power" and "obstruction of officials in the course of their duty," the arrest notice approved by the Xuzhou municipal state prosecutor said.
Yu's lawyer said the move makes it likely that the case will now proceed to trial.
But his wife Xu Yan said she is still being prevented from transferring money for her husband to spend in the detention center.
"I went down yet again to the Tongshan district police department in Xuzhou, and an officer from the Xuzhou municipal police department handed me a notification of arrest," Xu told RFA.
According to the document, Yu is currently being held in the Xuzhou Detention Center, and the case is being handled by the city police department, she said.
"Then I went to the Xuzhou Detention Center to deposit money for him, but there was nobody on duty in the afternoon, so I can't do it until Monday now," she said, adding: "I have already spoken to both of his lawyers, who are talking about how best to proceed."
Xu said she wasn't surprised to hear about her husband's formal arrest.
"As his next of kin, part of me was extremely sad to hear of his formal arrest, but I was mentally prepared for this," she said. "But I will face up to it with courage, in spite of the difficulties my family is going through."
She added: "He once told me when we were chatting casually that I would have to stay strong, stronger than before, if he were to lose his freedom again over these human rights cases."
Not optimistic about release
An officer who answered the phone at the Tongshan district police department declined to comment further.
"I think the relatives were here yesterday," the officer said. "This is being handled by my colleagues, so yes, we know about it."
"I'm pretty sure he was formally arrested."
Yu's defense attorney Xie Yang said he isn't optimistic that his client will be released any time soon.
"Actually this came as something of a surprise to me, because there was really nothing upon which to base a criminal charge," Xie said. "Now, I and another lawyer will be working to build our case; there hasn't been a clear case [against Yu] to emerge yet."
"The case will now likely go to court for a [trial and] verdict ... it is definitely going to drag out further."
Earlier this month, Xu Yan was herself detained and questioned by state security police in Xuzhou city suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power" for more than seven hours.
Yu has been held for more than two months without access to a defense attorney, and has been identified as being "at risk of torture" while he remains in incommunicado detention by London based rights group Amnesty International.
He was snatched away from his son by large numbers of police in a car park near his home and placed under criminal detention on Jan. 19, on suspicion of “obstructing public servants in the course of their duties," and was later transferred from Beijing to Jiangsu's Xuzhou city with the addition of the more serious charge of “incitement to subvert state power.”
China's embattled legal profession has been targeted with more than 300 detentions, summons, travel bans, and restrictions imposed on rights lawyers, activists and law firm staff since July 2015.
Rights lawyers who accept politically “sensitive” cases, or who are publicly outspoken on behalf of vulnerable groups, have also been prevented from practicing law because their business licenses are being revoked during a newly instituted annual review process.
Lawyers who try to defend clients held on suspicion of crimes ostensibly linked to “state security” concerns are also denied permission to meet with their clients, or are replaced by government appointed lawyers amid threats and pressure on the people who hired them.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.