Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin are holding a top rights lawyer under "residential surveillance" on suspicion of subversion, denying her visits from her defense attorney amid an ongoing crackdown on the legal profession, rights groups and lawyers said on Friday.
Wang Yu's lawyer Li Yuhan received an official notification from police dated Thursday, the Chinese rights website Weiquanwang tweeted on Friday.
"Wang Yu is suspected of incitement to subvert state power, which is a case in the category of crimes related to state security," the Hexi branch of Tianjin's municipal police department said in a notification to Li, a copy of which was attached to the tweet.
"A meeting could obstruct the investigation, or reveal state secrets, and so we have decided not to permit the application for a meeting with Wang Yu," it said.
Incitement to subvert state power carries a maximum jail term of five years in less serious cases, and a minimum jail term of five years in cases deemed more serious, or where the suspect is regarded as a "ringleader."
Wang had previously been believed detained on the lesser public order charge of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
The news emerged as the ruling Chinese Communist Party continued its nationwide operation to detain, question and restrict the activities of the country's embattled legal profession.
Beijing-based rights attorney Yu Wensheng, a vocal supporter of Wang Yu, was taken away by Beijing police on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" in the early hours of Thursday morning, his wife Xu Yan told RFA.
"They told me that he is being held on a criminal summons, and it boils down to either an administrative sentence or criminal detention," Xu said.
Administrative sentences can be given to perceived troublemakers by police without the need for a trial.
‘Right to sue the authorities’
Xu said Yu's public support for Wang Yu was listed as one of the reasons for his detention.
"They mentioned his support of Wang Yu, and his online support for the lawyers detained on July 10, and also the fact that he has lodged official complaints against the police on many occasions," she said.
"[But] Yu Wensheng says that citizens have the right to sue the authorities, enshrined in the Constitution," Xu said. "Everything Yu did was within the limits in the law; he was law abiding."
Xu said police had treated her and her husband rudely during the raid on their home, and hadn't produced any form of official documentation while searching him in front of the couple's child.
"They broke down our doors, both the external metal one and the inner, wooden one, and pinned Yu to the floor in an instant, before putting handcuffs on him and dragging him away," she said.
"More than a dozen of them pushed me aside and shoved their way into the room, and started searching it," Xu said. "They took away a computer, cables, an external hard drive and CD-ROMs."
"Our kid was so scared, he still couldn't sleep at 2 a.m.," she added.
Form of retaliation
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Chen Keyun said Yu's detention is a form of retaliation for his official complaint against the police.
"This is definitely an illegal act, and it looks like an act of retaliation over Yu's suing of the police," Chen said.
Yu had previously told RFA he had made mental preparation to be detained at any time.
In Beijing, the wife of detained rights lawyer Li Heping was also called in for questioning by police on Thursday.
"The crackdown on rights lawyers isn't over; it's still going on,"
Chen told RFA. "According to the information we have received, it is likely to continue until October."
He said the authorities regard rights lawyers as a threat to political stability, owing to their willingness to stand up for the most vulnerable groups inside China, and to communicate with media and organizations overseas.
In recent weeks, police have detained or interrogated at least 267 lawyers, law firm staff, and associated human right activists.
More than 20 people remain in detention, 16 of them at undisclosed locations, while many more have been placed under surveillance, police warning or house arrest, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said in a statement on its website on Friday.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.