Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained a writer and free-speech activist amid concerns for the welfare of her young children, RFA has learned.
Huang Meijuan was detained in late April by police in Shenzhen city, and has since been issued with a notice of criminal detention on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a blanket public order charge typically used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party or its policies.
Huang's ex-husband and fellow activist Wu Bin, known by his online nickname Xiucai Jianghu, posted a copy of the notice of criminal detention issued by the Longgang branch of the Shenzhen police department on Apr. 28 to social media.
Huang is currently being held in the Longgang Detention Center, but her two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, have been taken into care by officials.
"They told her sister when she went to inquire that the children have been taken to a rescue center," Wu said in a recent interview with RFA. "One of the kids has autism, is seven years old, and has cognitive issues - he is certified disabled."
"Huang's relatives and the children's biological father have all been to inquire about them," he said, adding that Huang's sister doesn't understand her activism and doesn't want to speak to the media about the case.
A friend of Huang's who requested anonymity said the family still doesn't know what prompted the state security police to detain her and put her children, one of whom attended a special needs school, into care.
The friend said there are growing concerns over the welfare of the children in the rescue center, as such facilities have a poor reputation in China, and that the family is trying to contact the children's father, a retired police officer in the eastern province of Jiangxi, to have him collect them.
"There have been exposes about these centers; kids go in just fine, and they come out on a stretcher or even dead," the friend said. "So we are worried, and we have been negotiating with her ex-husband for him to get them out of there."
"He was forced into early retirement because of Huang's [activism], so he holds a big grudge against her, and they hadn't been in contact before this happened."
In March 2017, Guangdong authorities shut down similar center in Shaoguan city and detained four members of staff after the death of an autistic teenager who had spent 45 days there.
The death of Lei Wenfeng, 15, came after he became separated from his family in Shenzhen in August 2017. He had been sent to the center after receiving treatment for an accidental injury in hospital. He died of typhoid fever in December 2016. Media reports at the time said Lei's wasn't the first death at the same center.
An employee who answered the phone at the Shenzhen Rescue & Child Protection Center on May 2 confirmed that the two children were being held there on that date. Posts on Twitter regarding her case since then have continued to call for Huang's release, although it was unclear whether the children remained in care at the time of writing.
"You needn't worry," the employee said. "We can't give out much information about them, though. The kids went to school today, so they're not here right now."
Repeated calls to the Longgang district police department rang unanswered during office hours, however.
Fellow writer and online activist Jia Pin described Huang as "an outspoken woman" who had been actively supporting political prisoners and jailed dissidents for some time.
"She has been involved in online support for prisoners of conscience," Jia said. "That included speaking out about social injustice."
Jia said Huang had written a number of posts on the social media platform WeChat, which is closely monitored by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"Most of the things she wrote on WeChat were on the subject of social and political affairs, and she had been doing it for a long time," he said. "She had already been held for 10 days [earlier this year] for things she wrote online."
"It's possible that the Shenzhen authorities are using such methods to step up the pressure on Huang Meijuan, to force her to stop posting her opinions online."
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.