Concerns are growing for the health of veteran Chinese democracy campaigner and rights activist Qin Yongmin, who campaigners say is being mistreated by prison authorities while serving a sentence for subversion in the central province of Hubei.
Qin, 65, was sentenced last July to 13 years' imprisonment by the Wuhan Intermediate People's Court, which convicted him of "incitement to subvert state power." He had already served nearly 26 years in jail.
Wu Lijuan, spokeswoman for the Rose China rights group founded by Qin, said he is being held in a cell with around a dozen cellmates charged with keeping him in line and watching his every move.
"They won't let him read a newspaper, they won't let him write anything, and he has to do a certain amount of labor," she said. "Qin Yongmin is in his sixties now, and shouldn't have to do labor."
"He has high blood pressure, which is slowly worsening: it's already over 200 [systolic] and he told his brother he was getting ready to go on hunger strike," Wu said. "He wants to refuse food in protest [at his treatment]."
Wu said Rose China and other rights groups will continue to protest Qin's treatment, in spite of an ever widening crackdown on all forms of public dissent or criticism of the ruling Chinese Communist Party since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
"A lot of overseas media have been paying attention to Qin Yongmin's case, while international human rights organizations have been paying attention to the situation of human rights in China," she said. "But they still lock up [dissidents]; still sentence them to jail."
Qin was detained alongside his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, and both were initially held in an unknown locations. Zhao later disappeared for three years, resurfacing briefly in February before being confined once more to residential surveillance.
Qin was eventually tracked down by friends and lawyers to the Wuhan No. 2 Detention Center, where he was held in pretrial detention for more than three years.
'He is totally unwavering'
An employee who answered the phone at the Guanghua Prison in Hubei's Qianjiang city, where Qin is being held, declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Monday.
"Let me give you the phone number of the prison political department," the employee said. But a person who answered a call to the supplied number declined to answer, saying they were unable to give out information about prisoners.
A friend of Qin's surnamed Chen said Qin is likely being poorly treated because he never provided the authorities with a "confession," and refused to plead guilty to the charges against him.
"He wants to see a China with a constitutional government, the rule of law, and with full democracy and genuine human rights," Chen said. "He is totally unwavering in his commitment to that cause."
"He definitely won't have accepted the charges against him, and he is also unlikely to cooperate with what is asked of him in prison, so some conflict is inevitable," he said.
A contemporary of exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng, Qin was sentenced to eight years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and subversion" in the wake of China's Democracy Wall movement in 1981.
He served a further two years' "re-education through labor" in 1993 after he penned a controversial document titled the "Peace Charter."
Qin then served a 12-year jail term for subversion after he helped found the China Democracy Party in 1998 in spite of a ban on opposition political parties.
The court said Wednesday that it would apply the three years Qin had spent in detention since 2015 towards his 13-year sentence.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.