Authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan are planning to prosecute a long-term political activist for supporting a call for direct elections to choose the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Huang Xiaomin was tracked down to a detention center in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu, last month, after being detained for more than three months with no notification to his family or access to a lawyer.
His lawyer He Wei, who visited Huang for the first time in the Chengdu Detention Center on Friday, told RFA that his client faces charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" over his support for a petition launched by detained former party ideologue Zi Su.
Zi Su was taken away from his home in Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu on April 28 after he posted an open letter online calling on Xi to step down as head of the party in favor of Hu Deping, son of late ousted premier Hu Yaobang, whose death in 1989 sparked the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.
"Xi Jinping was elected general secretary ... in 2012 and has served for five years," Zi's letter said. "His achievements ... have been to punish a number of corrupt officials, but his faults have been to imitate [late supreme leader] Mao Zedong with a personality cult around him and a focus on centralization of power."
The letter also called for "direct elections" to choose the next head of the Communist Party.
The outspoken professor had previously told RFA as the party celebrated its 95th birthday on July 1, 2016, that Xi was using "controls and political struggle of the kind used by Mao Zedong."
"It's to do with things he has said in public," He said following the meeting with Huang. "I am guessing it's a bunch of things, and
probably gathered together over a long period of time."
"The meeting went quite smoothly, and I was surprised to find that Huang Xiaomin seemed in pretty good shape, physically and emotionally."
He said the case, which will likely be dealt with separately from that of Zi Su, has already been sent to the state prosecution service, paving the way for a trial.
No word from authorities
But Huang's family said they have yet to receive any formal notification from the authorities.
"It doesn't matter how many times we ask the prosecution service; it's very hard to get anything out of them at all, whether verbally or in documentary form," Huang's sister Huang Xiaoqin said.
"They're not providing us with the correct legal documents, not even a notification of detention," she said. "The are also very rude in their dealings with the family, because people fighting for their rights makes life very difficult for them."
Repeated calls to the Chengdu Detention Center rang unanswered during office hours on Aug. 30.
Huang Xiaoqin said the reasons given to the lawyer for her brother's detention were unexpected.
"This had to do with signing something with Zi Su, which wasn't what we were expecting at all," she said. "But the lawyer told me that [the real reason] is that he got across someone in the local government when he helped some petitioners file a complaint against some vested interests, which included allegations of corruption."
Meanwhile, U.S.-based human rights researcher Gao Wenqian said Huang's detention comes against a highly politicized backdrop, and isn't an isolated case.
"The power struggle ahead of the 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party [on Oct. 18], is very fierce this year, and they are cracking down on anything [to do with President Xi] ahead of his reshuffle," Gao said.
"Xi Jinping told a meeting ... in July about the Four Things We Must Do At All Cost," he said. "One of those things was to 'suppress at all costs any unstable factors within the party.'"
"Huang Xiaomin's case is being viewed as one of those factors."
And the U.S.based editor of Hong Kong online magazine The Trend, Zhang Weiguo, agreed.
"Huang Xiaomin's case is definitely very closely linked to Xi Jinping," Zhang said. "Back in the days of [former presidents] Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping, this sort of thing would only have resulted in being invited to drink tea [with the state security police]. They wouldn't normally be detained."
"Back then, there were people who used to talk openly about Jiang Zemin's past record ... and they were never treated like Zi Su and Huang Xiaomin," he said. "They might have gotten into trouble, but this is trouble on a different level."
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lin Ping and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.