Chinese Police Hold Outspoken Activists in Beijing, Guangzhou

Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained an outspoken rights activist who publicly voiced support for last year's Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, his wife said on Tuesday.

Zhai Yanmin is currently being held in a police-run detention center in the southern Beijing district of Fengtai, his wife said.

"He went out [Monday] afternoon to talk to some people about something, and he was taken away," Zhai's wife, who didn't give her name, told RFA. "He's in the Fengtai Detention Center."

Police had also searched the couple's Beijing home on the same day, she said.

"His family have no idea of what is going on, but we can only find out by going down there, and I don't think they'll let anybody visit him in the next couple of days," she said.

She said police had confiscated a desktop and a notebook computer, and one of her cell phones.

"The rest was stuff like my husband's books, his permits, and documents," she said. "They took it all away in one trip."

"I'm pretty sure they're trying to find evidence against him," she added.

Police gave no reason for the search at the time, Zhai's wife said.

"I asked them what law he had broken ... Did he murder someone? They said, no he hadn't."

"They said they didn't know what law he had broken and that I shouldn't ask so many questions, just do as they told me," she said.

Social activism, rights work

Zhai was held under criminal detention in October after expressing public support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy Occupy Central movement, and the couple's home had been searched before, his wife said.

"Last time, when they searched, they took my cell phone, and now they have taken it again," she said.

She said Zhai had recently been focusing on a campaign in support of the relatives of Xu Chunhe, a former petitioner shot dead by police in front of his elderly mother and three young children at a railway station in Heilongjiang's Suihua city last month.

Guangdong-based rights activist Wang Aizhong said Zhai Yanmin's detention, along with the detention of Guangzhou-based activist Liu Shaoming, was part of a wider crackdown on rights activists around the country.

"The reason is probably to do with long-standing social activism and rights work that Zhai has carried out, which has probably led to his being taken away by police," Wang said.

"In the past two years, since [President] Xi Jinping came to power, the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party has continued its crackdown," he said.

"Anyone who fights for civil rights, or who refuses to submit to government controls, will be subjected to long-term detentions for all kinds of reasons," Wang added.

"Zhai Yanmin in Beijing and Liu Shaoming in Guangzhou were on the front line of rights activism, so it's normal for the authorities to come after them," he said.

'Picking quarrels'

Liu Shaoming, 57, was criminally detained on May 30 on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used by police to target dissidents and rights activists.

His lawyer Chen Keyun said he is currently being held in the Huadu District Detention Center in Guangdong's provincial capital, Guangzhou.

"It's hard to say how things will turn out," Chen said, adding that Liu's detention could be linked to his connections with other local activists like rights lawyer Ge Wenxiu and political activist Li Biyun.

He said Liu's relatives had had no formal notification of his detention, however.

"It looks like he's 'disappeared,'" he said. "They are supposed to send [notification] within 24 hours."

Beijing-based scholar Wang Jiangsong said the charge against Liu was trumped up.

"They are just pinning this charge on him," Wang said. "There is a strict legal definition of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble, and Liu Shaoming is definitely not the sort of person to do those things."

"He fought for the rights of workers ... this is political persecution," Wang said.

Liu had been active in a number of industrial disputes in recent years, including speaking out on behalf of cleaners at Guangzhou's University City, striking workers at the Xinsheng Shoe Factory, and many others, he said.

Growing pressure

The detentions come as Beijing moves to intensify pressure on civil society groups, which include those campaigning for the rights of women, migrant workers, consumers, students in education, sex workers, and those with disabilities and diseases.

Under a draft Overseas NGO Management Law currently under discussion, police will be given vastly expanded powers governing the operations of overseas nonprofit organizations in China, particularly in terms of funding Chinese NGOs, rights groups say.

The draft law’s provisions would affect all international nonprofits, including schools, hospitals, churches, charities, and sports clubs, and include groups based in Hong Kong and Macau.

Authorities will also be able to block Chinese organizations from receiving funding from overseas NGOs that have not registered inside the country or who haven't received a permit from police.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.