Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu are holding a prominent rights activist in incommunicado detention after detaining her last month on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," her attorney said on Friday.
Xu Qin, a key figure in the China Human Rights Observer group founded by detained veteran dissident Qin Yongmin, had recently spoken out in support of a number of high-profile human rights cases, including that of detained human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng.
Xu's lawyer Peng Jian said he went to the Yangzhou Detention Center on Friday in the hope of meeting with his client, but was refused permission to see her.
"I don't know the details of the case yet; [I] asked for a breakdown of the case from the investigating team, but they didn't tell me anything about it," Peng said. "I'm still waiting for the investigating officer to get back to me."
He added: "I won't be able to read the case files until it gets to the point of indictment and goes to the state prosecutor for review."
A friend of Xu's, who gave only his surnamed Zhang, said the police have likely prevented Xu from meeting with her lawyer because they fear she will speak out about abuses of her human rights.
"They want to cut her off completely from the concern of the outside world, so that she is isolated, and starts to despair, or has a mental breakdown," Zhang said. "Of course she is innocent, but ... citizens in mainland China don't have any rights."
Xu's husband Guo Mingwen said he has been interviewed by police on several occasions about his wife's human rights activism.
"She has been innocent right from the start," Guo said. "I can't say what's going on for sure."
"If the authorities want to detain someone, it's very easy for them to do so," he said.
China Rights Observer founder Qin is being held at the Wuhan No. 2 Detention Center. He had been scheduled to stand trial in late December on charges of "incitement to subvert state power," but the date was postponed at the last minute by the authorities, citing 'procedural' reasons.
Zhao Suli, the wife of Qing Yongmin, was detained alongside her husband in January 2015, and both were initially held in unknown locations.
But while Qin has since been tracked down by friends and lawyers to a detention center in the central city of Wuhan, Zhao had been in an unknown location for nearly three years, before resurfacing briefly last month to spend time with relatives and call her son in the eastern province of Anhui. She is now believed to be back under residential surveillance.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.