Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai have formally arrested a prominent anti-censorship campaigner on subversion charges, after holding him for six months under residential surveillance, his lawyer said on Friday.
Zhen Jianghua was taken away from his home in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, on the night of Sept. 1 on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power."
Initially held under criminal detention in the Zhuhai No. 1 Detention Center, Zhen was later taken to an unknown location by state security police, to be held under “residential surveillance,” where he has been for the past five months.
Zhen's defense attorney Ren Quanniu said he hasn't been allowed to meet with his client since he was hired by his family.
"Personally, I am extremely worried about Zhen Jianghua's safety, because he has been cut off from the outside world, so we don't know how things are going for him in detention," Ren told RFA.
"We don't know whether he is being subjected to torture or mistreatment; there are no guarantees that even his most basic human rights are protected," he said.
"His lawyers have been applying to be allowed to meet with him since Zhen Jianghua was detained and held under residential surveillance at a designated location, but we have never received permission," Ren said.
"The residential surveillance period ended yesterday, and now his formal arrest has been approved," he said.
The formal arrest paves the way for the case to move to trial. But fellow Guangdong rights activist Huang Yongxiang said he believes that Zhen has committed no crime.
"His arrest papers show that they have detained him on suspicion of incitement to subvert state power, which is utterly groundless," Huang said. "In other countries, they get to subvert their [governments] every three or four years, via an election."
"We believe that Zhen Jianghua is innocent," he said.
Ren was previously, denied permission with Zhen on the grounds that the case touches on matters of "national security."
Across the Great Firewall
Zhen, 32, who is also known by his online moniker GuestsZhen, is the executive editor of anti-censorship website Across the Great Firewall, www.atgfw.org, an overseas-registered site offering information about censorship, and circumvention tools for accessing the internet beyond China’s borders.
He was detained when he went to bring money to detained activists after taking part in a memorial event marking the death of late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo last July.
According to the overseas rights group, Frontline Defenders, Zhen is also a technical consultant with Human Rights Campaign in China, an advising expert with Chinese Wikipedia, and a project officer of a HIV/AIDS prevention education project in Zhuhai, run by the Hong Kong AIDS Foundation.
He has previously been detained by state security police for traveling to Guangdong's rebel village of Wukan following a crackdown by armed police in September 2016, on suspicion of inciting protests there, the group said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has moved to curb the use of circumvention tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) since the beginning of 2017, deleting swathes of foreign content not previously approved by the government under a draconian new cybersecurity law.
In September, a Guangdong court handed a nine-month jail term to Deng Jiewei after he allegedly set up a website in October 2015 to sell software helping users to scale the complex system of blocks, filters, and human censorship known collectively as the Great Firewall.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.