HONG KONG—Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou have detained prominent civil rights lawyer Guo Feixiong on suspicion of "running an illegal business."
Guo, who is also known as Yang Maodong, was taken from his home at 9 a.m. Thursday by plainclothes officers and is being held at the Guangzhou No.1 Detention Center, his wife said Friday.
"Yesterday morning as I was taking our son to kindergarten," Guo's wife Zhang Qing told RFA's Mandarin service. "I had just arrived at the gate when I was detained by a big chap who grabbed me by both arms and pulled me onto a minivan. He said he was from the Public Security Bureau."
She had been driven to see her husband, who told her to stay calm. Then he was taken away, and Zhang was handed a search warrant for her home and a document saying that Guo was being held under "criminal detention," she said.
This is going to be a very testing time for the civil rights movement, and not to fear the authoritarian regime. But there is a limit, even to their power.
Police took away three computers, handwritten papers and notebooks, and a cellphone, said Zhang, who was herself questioned for several hours at the local police station.
Guo first came to media attention as part of the legal team helping the villagers of Taishi, Guangdong province, to prepare a recall case against their elected village chief amid allegations of corruption during a land deal.
No stranger to police harassment, Guo was detained, formally arrested, then released without charge late last year.
He has also reported severe beatings at the hands of the police following the bitter and long-running dispute, during which he served as a member of Beijing-based lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s law firm.
Gao was detained Aug. 15 while on a family visit to Dongying city in the eastern province of Shandong. His wife and child have been incommunicado ever since, and Guo has said he fears they are being held under house arrest.
In an interview broadcast by RFA's Mandarin service on Sept. 12, Guo appeared to anticipate further trouble as a result of his continued civil rights work, which included a lawsuit against police for at least one of the beatings.
"There are still a lot of people downstairs [watching me]," Guo told "Different Voices" host Jill Ku. "But I haven't been out for a month or more because I've been publicizing the arrest of Gao Zhisheng to the outside world. I don't care what they do."
"They can't do anything against us legally because we haven't put a foot wrong. They are reduced to using violence, like the mafia, against us," he said, adding that he expected worse still to come.
"The aim of the civil rights movement is to protect the legal rights of citizens, of the individual, so that China will progress towards a society under the rule of law. The reaction of the authoritarian regime against the civil rights movement has been ferocious. Given that this is their attitude I think it can only get worse for civil rights activists from now on," he said.
He said civil rights activists who engaged with the authorities within the law had a powerful effect on the system, however.
"It's really got to the point where I would welcome the opportunity to do four or five years in jail now, so that I could exert some moral force through my non-cooperation with the authorities," Guo said.
Asked if he had any messages for his friends and fellow activists, he repeated the words to said to his wife shortly before being taken away Thursday.
"I would tell them to stay calm," he said.
"This is going to be a very testing time for the civil rights movement, and not to fear the authoritarian regime. But there is a limit, even to their power."
Gao lost his law license after he criticized the government for its treatment of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
He also began a rolling hunger strike earlier in the year to protest the ill-treatment of lawyers and rights activists at the hands of police and local government officials.
The protest began in reaction to the beating of Guo Feixiong. Guo was a close associate of Gao, and both lawyers had worked on a number of sensitive cases, including the Taishi village standoff.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.