Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have deprived a prominent dissident of sleep, toilet access and food following his detention ahead of a politically sensitive massacre anniversary.
Former Anhui state prosecutor Shen Liangqing disappeared on May 15, less than a month before the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989.
His family was later informed that he was taken into criminal detention on May 16, on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a public order charge frequently used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
He is currently being held in the Hefei Detention Center in Anhui's provincial capital, where he has been deprived of sleep, toilet access and food during interrogations, as the authorities try to get him to "confess", according to his sister, his lawyer and an overseas-based rights group.
"On May 15, Anhui police seized dissident writer Shen Liangqing while he was walking his dog at night and criminally detained him the next day on 'picking quarrels' charges, but did not inform his family until May 22," the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said in a statement on its website.
It said Shen had been visited by his lawyer Liu Hao on May 27.
"Shen told his lawyer that unknown men grabbed him while he was walking his dog and put a black hood over his head, making him believe he had been kidnapped, before police showed identification," the group said.
"At the detention center, police denied Shen food and water and use of a toilet for 24 hours, and subjected him to gruelling interrogations focused on June Fourth and if he had accepted any interviews with overseas media," CHRD said.
"Shen is a prolific tweeter through his account @sliangq and frequently comments on human rights issues," it said.
Shen's sister, who declined to give her full name, confirmed the report to RFA.
"The whole family is very worried about his health," she said. "The lawyer has requested that he be released on bail ... I can't quite get it straight, but I think the charge of picking quarrels is relating to his giving interviews to foreign media."
She added that Shen is unlikely to "confess" in return for release on bail or a more lenient sentence.
"He is definitely not going to plead guilty: he believes he is innocent," she said. "This is a violation of his human rights."
'Killing the chickens to frighten the monkeys'
Repeated calls to the Hefei Detention Center rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Liu Hao declined to comment on Shen's case when contacted by RFA.
"I need to tell you that it's really not convenient for me to talk to you about this," Liu said. "We are constantly being warned [not to talk to foreign media], and we are under a huge amount of pressure, so I hope you can understand."
A friend of Shen's, who gave only his surname Wang, said his friend is a veteran dissident and rights activist, and the authorities likely want to make an example of him to scare off anyone thinking of commemorating the 1989 pro-democracy movement and its bloody aftermath.
"I think perhaps the higher-ups want to make an example out of Shen Liangqing," Wang said. "It's a classic case of killing the chickens to frighten the monkeys; they want to show others that they will also be dealt with heavy-handedly if they don't keep quiet during this [sensitive] time."
According to CHRD, the 57-year-old Shen has been involved in democracy activism since 1984, and served an 18-month prison sentence in 1992 for "incitement to subvert state power."
Chinese police have detained, placed under house arrest or threatened dozens of activists who are seeking to mark the June 4 anniversary, as well as relatives of those killed, during recent weeks, London-based rights group Amnesty International said in a statement this week.
It said hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed protesters and civilians were killed when soldiers opened fire in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 3–4, 1989, as they sought to crush widespread protests calling for political reform.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.