Chinese human rights lawyer Li Fangping (李方平) yesterday said he was home after having been missing for five days, but the wife of another attorney said her husband had vanished amid a crackdown on dissent.
“I’m home, thank you. I got home yesterday after 6pm,” Li said, adding he could not take any more questions.
Li had disappeared on Friday after leaving the office building of an AIDS sufferers’ group in Beijing less than two hours after another prominent human rights lawyer, Teng Biao (滕彪), returned home after 10 weeks in custody.
However, another attorney named Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵) — who has represented human rights activists, victims of religious persecution and AIDS advocacy group Aizhixing — went missing on Wednesday, his wife and activists said.
“He hasn’t come home since yesterday and his phone is switched off,” said Wu Haiying, who last spoke to her husband about 5:45pm on Wednesday.
“He said, ‘If anything happens, don’t panic,’” Wu said, adding she did not know Li’s whereabouts or if he was in police custody.
The lawyer’s mobile phone was switched off yesterday.
Aizhixing founder Wan Yanhai (萬延海), who fled to the US with his family last year because he feared for his safety, said police had warned Li Xiongbing on Tuesday that he would be detained and should leave his phone on 24 hours a day.
The missing attorney has been repeatedly asked by police to stop representing Aizhixing and legal research center Gongmeng, which was shut down and fined in 2009 for alleged tax evasion, Wan said by e-mail.
Phelim Kine, an Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the “blatantly unlawful” campaign of disappearances that began in February “suggests a de facto policy of drip-feed repression hinged on intimidation and fear.”
He said the intention of the “targeted disappearances” appeared to be to “silence perceived dissidents and spread fear throughout China’s legal community and nascent civil society that no one is safe.”
In other developments, the State Council Information Office said on Wednesday that it had created a central agency to regulate every corner of the nation’s vast Internet community, a move that appeared to complement a continuing crackdown on political dissidents and other social critics.
However, the vaguely worded announcement left unclear whether the new agency, the State Internet Information Office, would in fact supersede a welter of ministries and government offices that already claim jurisdiction over parts of cyberspace.
The State Council Information Office said it was transferring its own staff of Internet regulators to the new agency, which would operate under its jurisdiction. Among many other duties, the agency would direct “online content management,” supervise online gaming, video and publications; promote major news Web sites and oversee online government propaganda. The agency would also have authority to investigate and punish violators of online content rules, and it would oversee the huge telecommunications companies that provide access for Internet users and content providers alike.
The Information Office is a unit of the State Council. Two former Information Office officials would run the new agency, and executives from the public security and information technology ministries would also serve in senior positions, the announcement stated.