Beijing human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng is "at risk of torture" while he remains in incommunicado detention in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, a London-based rights group has warned.
Yu was placed under criminal detention on Jan. 19, on suspicion of “obstructing public servants in the course of their duties," but has since been transferred from Beijing to Jiangsu's Xuzhou city on a more serious charge of “incitement to subvert state power.”
Yu's wife Xu Yan and his two defense attorneys Chang Boyang and Xie Yang went to the Tongshan district police department in Xuzhou on Thursday, but Xu was prevented from entering the building, while Chang and Xie went in to apply for a meeting with their client, fellow activists told RFA.
Video footage of their bid to enter the building showed Xu and fellow rights activist Ni Yulan waiting outside a door to the police department, in heated discussion with a uniformed officer.
"The lawyers want to apply to meet with him," Xu is heard telling the officer. "As his family, I want to give him some money."
"This is an office environment," the officer replies.
"We know it's an office; that's why we came," Ni replies. "Where do we go if we need to visit the toilet?"
Hotel room search
Ni said Xu was eventually allowed into the building, however.
"They blocked our way and wouldn't let us inside," Ni, an award-winning rights activist and housing activist, told RFA in an interview afterwards. "Xu Yan was unable to prove that she is a relative of Yu Wensheng."
"They didn't decide to let Xu Yan in for a very long time; it was very unreasonable. They also told us not to go 'shooting off our mouths'."
Ni said the group had been closely followed by a police car since their arrival in Xuzhou, and police officers had demanded to be allowed in to search their rooms after they settled in, although the group refused to open the door to them.
"We paid for our rooms and showed our ID, and we had already taken up residence our rooms," Ni said. "We hadn't done anything illegal ... [yet] they came to search our rooms; we thought that was illegal."
In an Urgent Action statement calling on its members to contact Chinese officials about Yu, Amnesty International said it is unclear exactly where Xuzhou police are holding him.
"While [Jiangsu police] have admitted that they are holding him, his exact whereabouts are unknown," the group said. "He is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment."
It said Tongshan district police department in Xuzhou notified his family that Yu was being held under "residential surveillance in a designated location" on Jan. 27, but that no official information has been forthcoming since.
Yu's lawyers have been repeatedly denied permission to visit him in detention, with officials saying the case involves matters of national security.
"They haven't allowed his defense lawyers to visit Yu Wensheng ... and I really don't know if they are going to," Xu told RFA in an interview recorded on Wednesday. "We have been [to Xuzhou] but they have never let them meet with Yu."
"It's not looking very good ... the initial charge when they detained Yu Wensheng on Jan. 19 wasn't anything to do with state security," she said. "Now, they are charging him with incitement to subvert state power."
Criminal procedure flouted
Xu said it remains unclear why her husband was transferred to Jiangsu in the first place.
"To this day, we still don't have any answers," she said. "We asked the police ... but they didn't answer the question. Yu Wensheng is from Beijing, not Xuzhou."
Lawyer Chang Boyang said the authorities have flouted criminal procedure and due process since Yu's detention.
"They have engaged in methods that aren't in strict accordance with the law," Chang said. "They have him under residential surveillance, but it is doubtful that they will stick to the law."
Police can hold suspects in cases deemed to "endanger state security" for up to six months with no access to lawyers or family visits for up to six months, under China's Criminal Procedure Law.
"Yu Wensheng is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression," Amnesty International said.
It said Xu Yan was also prevented from entering Hong Kong on Feb. 24, because she might "endanger state security" by doing so.
Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon said the group is hoping to step up pressure on the Chinese authorities, for fear that Yu is being subjected to "torture or inhumane treatment" while in incommunicado detention.
"He was subjected to torture-like treatment during his 99-day incarceration in 2014," Poon said. "They can lock you up under residential surveillance at a designated location for up to six months with no explanation whatsoever."
"But this period can also be extended for a very long time, by saying it is the decision of the state prosecutor whether or not to indict you," he said. "There are no protections for detainees under this system."
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.