Authorities in the southwestern region of Guangxi have detained a prominent human rights lawyer who spoke out about curbs to China's legal profession and the abolition of term limits by President Xi Jinping.
Chen Jiahong is currently under criminal detention at Guangxi's Yulin Detention Center, on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," RFA has learned.
According to fellow Guangxi lawyer Tan Yongpei, Chen's detention came after he posted a video to social media in which he calls for "an assassination commando," and to be "rid of this evil bureaucracy," in an apparent reference to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Chen also called for a democratic process to work towards constitutional government in China, Tan said.
"The police went out and detained him less than an hour and a half after the video was posted," Tan said. "Now that Chen Jiahong has shouted this out in public, the government will deem it to be publicly inciting subversion of state power."
"This crossed a red line for them," he said.
Apparently foreseeing his arrest, Chen had already prepared documents instructing his defense attorneys, and handed them to fellow rights lawyer Lu Siwei to prevent the authorities from insisting that he be represented by a government-appointed attorney.
But Lu was denied permission to visit with Chen when he showed up at the detention center on Thursday, Tan said.
"The state security police took Lu's application, and said they would inform him after they had looked into it," Tan said. "There is an unwritten rule in China that any political prisoners who are a threat to party rule will automatically be denied visits from their lawyers."
"He will only be allowed to visit him after the indictment," he said.
Dozens offer help
Dozens of fellow rights attorneys have already agreed to act on Chen's behalf, or to offer advice on his case, Tan said.
"We will arrange for a lawyer to go to the detention center every month to ask to see [Chen]," Tan said. "We will see how the Yulin authorities react to that; whether or not they allow a meeting with Chen Jiahong."
One of the group of attorneys, who asked to remain anonymous, said Chen had been very outspoken against the ruling Chinese Communist Party in recent years, and that many of his colleagues agree with his views.
"I believe that constitutional government is the only way to protect citizens' right to freedom of expression," the lawyer said. "In detaining Chen Jiahong, the government is trampling the constitution."
"Chen Jiahong was detained for opposing the party and opposing the government, so we should stand by him and defend him," he said. "We're not just defending Chen; we're defending the freedom of speech, and our generation."
Chen's ex-wife Luo Fen said his family has yet to receive any official notification of his detention.
"Someone in the police department told me that the decision to detain Chen Jiahong didn't come from the Yulin police department," Luo said. "It was ordered by the central government, the ministry of public security."
U.S.-based legal scholar Chen Guangcheng said Chen Jiahong has never hesitated to speak out.
"Those who dare to challenge authoritarian rule ... are anathema to the Chinese Communist Party," Chen Guangcheng said. "But if the Chinese people want to solve China's problems, they have to take this step."
"They must solve the problem of how to subvert an anti-human and violent regime," he said.
Call to end targeting
Chen, 53, was among dozens of Chinese attorneys to sign an open letter calling on the Chinese Communist Party to immediately release all detained human rights lawyers in February and March 2018.
In an open letter to China's minister for justice Zhang Jun, dozens of lawyers called on the government to end its targeting of lawyers, especially those who criticize changes to the constitution that paved the way for indefinite rule by President Xi Jinping.
China's embattled legal profession has been targeted with more than 300 detentions, summons, travel bans, and restrictions imposed on rights lawyers and law firm staff since July 2015.
Rights lawyers who accept politically “sensitive” cases, or who are publicly outspoken on behalf of vulnerable groups, have also been prevented from practicing law because their business licenses are being revoked during a newly instituted annual review process.
Lawyers who try to defend clients held on suspicion of crimes ostensibly linked to “state security” concerns are also denied permission to meet with their clients, or replaced by government-appointed lawyers amid threats and pressure on the people who hired them.
Reported by Han Jie for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.