A Chinese lawyer who enlisted activists for a series of brief hunger strikes to protest police brutality has been arrested on charges of inciting subversion, his lawyer said yesterday.
Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), who has been held at a Beijing detention center since August, has been officially arrested on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power," his lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平) said.
Gao, in his early 40s, is a famously combative rights lawyer who has taken up the causes of dispossessed oil investors, labor activists and -- most controversially -- members of Falun Gong, an outlawed spiritual sect.
His arrest marked another step in the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) campaign to stifle an expanding nationwide "rights defense" network seeking to expand citizens' rights through courts and publicity campaigns, activists said.
"Right now, the government's number one enemy is the rights defense movement, and Gao Zhisheng has been one of its leading figures," said Hu Jia (胡佳), a Beijing-based dissident who knows Gao.
Gao was detained by Beijing police in August, one of several prominent rights lawyers and activists who have been jailed, detained or put under house arrest in past months.
Earlier this year, Gao organized a rolling hunger-strike to protest police harassment of political activists.
He also helped campaign that sought the release of Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), a blind human-rights activist sentenced to more than four years jail in August on charges that critics said were trumped up by angry local officials.
Mo said he was not told of the specific accusations against Gao. Under Chinese law, those convicted of inciting subversion can be jailed for up to five years -- longer in serious cases.
The crime has often been directed at dissidents who publish criticisms of the government in print or on the Internet. Gao had issued a public letter criticizing the Chinese government's crackdown on Falun Gong.
China's top security official, Luo Gan (羅幹), warned in June that the "rights defense" movement harbored forces dedicated to overturning the CCP.
Gao's arrest is likely to inflame international criticisms of Beijing's curbs on human rights.
On Oct. 2, dozens of prominent human rights advocates and scholars of China based in the US, Europe and Australia issued a petition urging China to end its crackdown on Gao and other activists.