Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are holding four netizens amid a nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers and activists after one posted a photo of themselves wearing a T-shirt calling for the release of detained attorney Wang Yu.
Liu Yajie is currently being held on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” her lawyer told RFA.
Police have also detained fellow activists Liu Jinlian, Huang Xi, Wei Xiaobing and Huang Yongxiang, but their whereabouts were still unknown by Tuesday evening, when repeated calls to their personal cell phones resulted in a “switched off” message.
The four were detained after gathering at Liu’s home on Friday, and taken to the nearby Yongxin police station in Xintang district of Guangdong’s Zengcheng city.
“I went to Yongxin police station in Zengcheng this morning,” Liu’s lawyer Liu Zhengqing told RFA on Tuesday. “According to the police officers there, Liu Yajie is already under criminal detention.”
“[They said] they didn’t initiate this case, because they haven’t the power to do that,” he said. “It was initiated by the state security police in [provincial capital] Guangzhou,” he said.
“They told me that she is now being held in the Zengcheng detention center.”
Liu Zhengqing said he held a very brief meeting with Liu Yajie later on Tuesday, that was tightly controlled by police.
“I hadn’t expected that my meeting with Liu Yajie would only last two minutes,” he said. “A police officer came into the meeting room and told Liu Yajie to leave, and when I asked why, he said he was terminating the meeting.”
Detention center authorities sometimes limit or deny access to lawyers on the basis that the meeting will “harm state security,” but the public order charge of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” isn’t in that category.
“When I went to ask the duty officer why this had happened, he told me they had just had a notice through from the state security police in Zengcheng city saying that Liu Yajie was to be denied visits from her lawyer,” Liu Zhengqing said.
He added: “But this is a regular criminal case, and there’s no need for approval from the state security police.”
“I don’t think we have to march to the beat of their drum.”
Guangdong-based rights activist Liu Sifang, who is a close friend of Liu Yajie, said she had been a vocal and enthusiastic participant in civil society and had helped out in a number of civil rights cases.
“She is a single mother with a daughter, and we don’t know at the moment just who is taking care of the child,” Liu Sifang said.
“Any citizen or any person with any conscience at all, who loves justice, would want to speak out in support of those unjustly detained lawyers,” Liu Sifang said.
As of Aug. 28, at least 277 lawyers, paralegals and assistants and other activists or family members had been detained, placed under house arrest or otherwise had their movements restricted in an ongoing crackdown, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said in a statement on its website.
Nineteen people, including 12 lawyers, remain in criminal detention or are being held under “residential surveillance” in undisclosed locations, which is associated with a high risk of torture and mistreatment, rights groups say.
The crackdown began with the midnight detention of top rights attorney Wang Yu, her husband and son, as well as fellow rights lawyers and other employees of the Beijing-based Fengrui law firm on July 9-10.
Several lawyers have since been released from detention or questioning but have been prevented from leaving the country, the CHRLCG said.
A friend of the four Zengcheng activists, who gave only his surname Zhou, said he believed their detentions were linked to a T-shirt they had printed with Wang Yu’s photograph on it, calling for the lawyers’ release.
He said activists are still being detained across China for engaging in similar activities.
“In the past couple of days, friends of mine in Sichuan have been taken down to the police station and questioned,” Zhou said.
“They all had to ‘drink tea’ [with state security police], and were questioned for several hours.”
The police officers told them they were being questioned in connection with a parcel sent from Guangdong, Zhou said.
He said one of the parcels had been sent using Liu Yajie’s ID card, and likely contained printed T-shirts in support of Wang Yu.
“We still don’t know exactly who organized these T-shirts,” Zhou said.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.