Chinese rights activists have demanded the release of lawyer Gao Zhisheng (
Gao, 42, is a combative human rights lawyers whose causes have included disgruntled private oil investors, labor activists and rural protesters and members of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual group.
On Friday, Beijing police announced he had been detained "for suspected involvement in criminal activities," without specifying any charges.
"Whether as a lawyer or citizen, Gao Zhisheng has fully exercised his right to engage in civic rights defense activities and his freedom to express his political views," said a petition signed by 40 Chinese dissidents and activists at the weekend. "These rights should be respected and protected by the government."
The police announcement came the same day that China tried a blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng (
Also, Zhao Xin (
Dissidents said Gao would now become a focus for all Chinese "rights defenders" seeking to combat what they say is tightening government repression.
"Now he's become the most important case for all of us," Beijing-based activist Hu Jia (
Signatories of the petition circulated by e-mail included veteran dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波); Yu Jie (余傑), a Christian critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party who recently had a White House meeting with US President George W. Bush; and Ding Zilin (丁子霖), an elderly academic who has sought redress for families of people killed or maimed in the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests.