Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have released on 'bail' four activists who launched a T-shirt campaign in support of detained human rights lawyers, amid an ongoing crackdown on the country's embattled legal profession.
Police in Guangdong's Zengcheng city had detained Liu Yajie (also known as Liu Jinlian), Huang Xi, Lai Rifu, Wei Xiaobing, and Huang Yongxiang after they created campaign T-shirts calling for the release of detained human rights attorney Wang Yu.
While Huang Xi was released soon after his initial detention, the authorities released Huang Yongxiang, Wei, Liu, and Lai after they were granted bail on Tuesday, an activist known by his online nickname Zhouzhou Zhuzhou told RFA.
"They got out at around 7.00 p.m. yesterday," the activist said. "They have already sent out messages on [the smartphone messaging app] WeChat."
Huang Yongxiang said in a later interview that police questioning had focused on the mailing of a single T-shirt.
"It was because we were showing support for the lawyer detained since July 10," Huang said. "They basically wanted to know where we had sent the T-shirts, because they want to get them all back."
"I was held under criminal detention, and now I'm out on bail."
Huang said there are strict conditions attached to the release of the activists, who are still regarded as criminal suspects.
"If we leave the Guangzhou area, we have to report to the police, and they expect us to report to the local police station at regular intervals," he said.
While in detention, the activists were denied access to lawyers on the grounds that their actions had "harmed state security."
Lawyer's access denied
As the Guangzhou activists were getting out, police in the central province of Hubei formally arrested detained New Citizens' Movement activist Yi Xu'an on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
"The rule of law team at the Daye city police department and the Daye Detention Center have made it very clear that I won't be able to meet with my client," Yi's lawyer Lin Qilei told RFA on Tuesday. "They said that's not going to happen."
Lin said there is no provision in China's judicial regulations to deny access to a lawyer for such charges, which he said were unfounded.
"Yi Xu'an has done nothing that is against the law, and the charge ... is not one that requires official approval for a meeting," he said.
"Of course we don't know the details of the case against him, but to judge from what his relatives told me, he hasn't broken the law," Lin said, adding that Yi's detention could be linked to his support of free-speech activist Wu Gan, known by his online nickname "The Butcher."
Wu, 42, taken away by police during a performance protest he titled "selling my body to raise funds" in Nanchang city in eastern Jiangxi province.
He was trying to help finance a legal defense for four men campaigners say were wrongly jailed by a court in Jiangxi's Leping city in 2000 for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.
Wu is being held on charges of "libel," "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and the more serious "incitement to subvert state power."
Official media have indicated that the libel charge relates to his criticism of the police shooting of a man at a railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in May.
Lin said Yi's support of Wu is entirely within the law, however.
"If he has been detained for supporting the Butcher, then this nothing but a case of government persecution," he told RFA.
Activist vanishes in custody
Wu is believed to be held in the southeastern province of Fujian, but his circumstances and location remain unknown, according to Fujian-based netizen You Jingyou.
"Wu Gan's wife Song Kai went to the Yongtai Detention Center on Sept. 28 to give him clothes and money, but the detention center staff told him that he hadn't been held there for some time," You wrote on Twitter.
"When she asked them where he is, they said she'd have to get that information from the officers in charge of the case."
Song later went to the port city of Xiamen to enquire after her husband's whereabouts, where she was told to await a letter confirming his location, You added.
Wu's lawyer Li Fangping said the authorities are required by law to inform his relatives where he is being held.
"We found out from the state prosecutors here that he was transferred somewhere else within seven days of his formal arrest," Li said.
"But the prosecutors can't find out where he is, and the police and the detention center are refusing to answer this question."
Wu was formally arrested on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" and "incitement to subvert state power" in July, Li said, adding that Wu's former attorney Wang Yu was the first to be arrested on the night of July 9 and 10.
Since Wang’s detention alongside her husband Bao Longjun and other colleagues from the Beijing-based Fengrui law firm on July 10, at least 288 lawyers, paralegals, and assistants and other activists or family members had been detained, placed under house arrest, or otherwise had their movements restricted in an ongoing crackdown, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said in a statement on its website.
Of those, 251 have since been released, but at least 16 are still being held in undisclosed locations, including Wang Yu, her husband Bao Longjun, and Fengrui colleagues Wang Quanzhang, Huang Liqun ,and Zhou Shifeng, it said.
Reported by Qiao Long and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.