A prominent Buddhist monk and rights activist has disappeared after being held under round-the-clock police surveillance following his release from detention on subversion charges last month.
Lin Bin, also known by his religious name Monk Wang Yun, is incommunicado, presumed detained, a fellow activist told RFA.
"I heard that nobody has seen him in a while, and they can't get in contact with him either," a fellow activist who knows Lin told RFA.
"We haven't heard anything from him at all," the activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Lin was detained amid a nationwide police operation targeting rights lawyers, law firm employees and associated activists that began in July 2015 with the detention of a group of employees at the Beijing Fengrui law firm.
More than 300 people were detained, called in for questioning or held under surveillance or other restrictions, including bans on international travel, rights groups said.
As of Sept. 30, 11 people remain in criminal detention, including six lawyers and five rights activists.
But those who were granted 'bail,' including legal assistant Zhao Wei, have also remained under surveillance, and haven't been in touch with their usual social circle since leaving the detention center, sparking concerns for their safety.
In August, prominent Beijing rights lawyer Wang Yu and her husband and colleague Bao Longjun were granted bail, but the couple has yet to be seen by friends or former colleagues, and are living in an apartment rented for them by state security police, under constant surveillance.
Fresh restrictions on lawyers
Lin's "disappearance" comes as the authorities seek to impose fresh restrictions on China's embattled legal profession by penalizing any lawyers who speak out in public about abuses of their clients' rights.
An amended set of the Ministry of Justice's "Administrative Measures for Law Firms" will place lawyers who speak out about rights abuses within the judicial system at risk of losing their livelihoods, especially in "sensitive" political cases.
The new rules, which take effect Nov. 1, effectively ban lawyers from speaking to the media or walking out of court in response to torture, forced confessions or other violations of their clients' rights.
They will also be penalized if they write open letters about cases they are involved in, or assist people to lodge petitions, the rules state.
Lawyers in China must already submit to annual checks if they want to renew their license to practice.
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Ge Wenxiu, who recently signed an open letter to the government protesting the new rules, said they make a mockery of the rule of law in China.
"Sometimes the authorities trample on the law, and disregards it, during judicial processes," Ge said. "Often, the lawyer will have no other option but to publish their opinions and doubts about this on social media."
"Sometimes they will get together and write to the central government with opinions and suggestions," he said. "These new rules will oblige law firms to get rid of lawyers who do these things, which will silence the lawyers."
"We will have no way of communicating to the general public the problems that come up."
'Poor quality' and 'illegal'
Ge said the new rules are unconstitutional, because they interfere with the right to freedom of expression.
"They are of extremely poor quality and they are all illegal," he said.
Lawyer Zou Lihui, who also signed the letter, said the rules represent another infringement on the right to practice as lawyers.
"They should have consulted with lawyers across the country, as the law states," Zou said. "Our letter had 110 signatures when we sent it on Oct. 2."
But rights lawyers told RFA that some of the signatories to the letter had received calls from their bosses warning them not to take part in such actions in future, suggesting that the rules are already having a chilling effect on the profession.
Rights lawyer Wu Kuiming said he thinks it highly unlikely that any of the problematic clauses will be withdrawn, and that the rules will go into effect as planned on Nov. 1.
"I don't think there's much likelihood of any deletions, because ... the powers that be are always doing things like this these day," Wu said.
"They do whatever they want, and it makes no difference whether people protest about it or not: they just go ahead and do it anyway," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.