Family says Chinese human rights activist formally arrested

The wife and father of a prominent Chinese human rights campaigner said Friday that police have told the family he has been formally arrested and has dismissed his lawyers.

Legal activist Jiang Tianyong disappeared in November after publicizing the plight of families of lawyers who had been detained in an intense crackdown on rights lawyers and activists. Critics say the campaign is aimed at snuffing out any potential opposition to the ruling Communist Party.

State media later said Jiang was accused of "inciting subversion of state power" and was being held at a secret location. His family and lawyers have not been allowed to meet with him.

Jiang's wife Jin Bianling told The Associated Press that one of Jiang's lawyers went to the Public Security Bureau in the central Hunan province city of Changsha on Wednesday to again request a meeting with his client. Jin said the lawyer was given a statement from Jiang declaring that he had dismissed his family-appointment lawyers.

"It must have been written by Jiang Tianyong under torture," Jin said by phone from California, where she moved in 2013 with the couple's daughter to escape harassment from security agents.

Several calls to the Changsha Public Security Bureau rang unanswered Friday.

In March, one newspaper carried a purported interview with Jiang in which he said he concocted a story of a detained lawyer having been tortured by police. The interview was slammed by Jiang's wife and rights groups as a sham, and his legal team questioned how reporters had been able to meet with Jiang when his relatives and lawyers have not.

Jin said Friday that her husband once told her and put in writing "that any statements, declarations or documents he signs under conditions of no freedom should be invalid because they do not reflect his real intentions."

It is common practice for Chinese authorities to replace family-hired lawyers with government-approved ones when trying dissidents and civil rights activists.

On Thursday, the lawyer and Jiang's sister went again to the police bureau and were told that Jiang had been formally arrested and an arrest notice had been mailed to the family. Jin said they had yet to receive the notice.

Jin and Jiang's father Jiang Lianghou said that police wouldn't tell them on which charge he had been formally arrested or where he was being held.

As a lawyer, Jiang took on politically sensitive cases. He was disbarred in 2009, but continued his activism and helped publicize the plight of lawyers arrested in the sweeping crackdown that began in July 2015.

The space for civil society has been curtailed dramatically under President Xi Jinping. He has presided over detentions of lawyers and rights activists, bloggers and others reporting on rights abuses and critiquing government policies, as well as a tightening of controls over foreign organizations.

A U.N. representative on human rights, Philip Alston, said in a report that will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council this month that some individuals whom he met on a mission to China in August, including Jiang, appeared to have been subjected to official reprisals.