Prominent rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong has gone missing, believed detained, after he traveled to Hunan's provincial capital Changsha to meet with relatives of lawyers detained in last year's nationwide crackdown.
“Jiang Tianyong has been disappeared since the evening of Nov. 21," his wife Jin Bianling told RFA. "I haven't been able to get in contact with him."
Beijing-based Jiang, who has represented members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, lost contact with friends and family after he visited Chen Guiqiu, the wife of detained rights lawyer Xie Yang in Changsha, she said.
"Lawyer Lin Qilei was visiting Xie Yang in the Changsha No. 2 Detention Center that day, so he met with both of them," said Jin, who is currently in the United States. "He also had a meal with Xie Yang's wife and a group of other lawyers."
Jin said Jiang typically goes online at least once in any 12-hour period.
"If he hasn't been online, and can't be contacted, then I know something has definitely happened to him," she said. "I haven't heard anything for 24 hours this time, so he's definitely been 'disappeared'."
'Being disappeared' is a common expression used by Chinese activists and dissidents to describe intentional and unofficial detentions by the authorities, often under the nationwide "stability maintenance" regime.
Lin confirmed to RFA on Wednesday that he had eaten dinner with Jiang on Nov. 19.
"We all met up on Saturday, and we still don't know [exactly where he is]," Lin said.
Legal assistant Shi Kuang said Jiang had bought a ticket to return to Beijing on Monday.
"On Monday evening, Jiang told his friends that he had already got his train ticket and that he was planning to go back to Beijing," Shi said.
"He was scheduled to board that train at 10.53 p.m. [local time], and to arrive in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the following day, but he has been incommunicado the whole time," he said.
Crackdown on lawyers continues
Jiang, 45, is a prominent human rights lawyer whose clients have included blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng, currently in the United States, rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, the residents of Guangdong's Taishi village who launched an anti-corruption campaign, and a number of religious freedom cases, including the Falun Gong.
According to Changsha-based rights lawyer Ma Lianshun, Jiang is likely to have been detained because of his involvement with the families affected by a nationwide crackdown involving hundreds of rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015 with a police raid on the offices of the Fengrui law firm and the detention of its key lawyers, including Wang Yu.
But he said he is a mild-mannered man who doesn't make enemies easily.
"He is a very polite and obliging person who has never had a quarrel with anyone," Ma said. "
"I think this has to be linked to [his visit to Xie Yang's wife]. There really isn't any other explanation," he said. "He wanted to look into the case, but that is entirely legal."
"The crackdown still isn't over," he added. "They are now using any tactics, fair means or foul."
More than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists and relatives were detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions since the crackdown began.
At least 16 remain in criminal detention on subversion charges, while four have been handed jail terms of up to seven years, according to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.