The United States has expressed concerns about an ongoing crackdown against Chinese human rights defenders, following reports Wednesday that several prominent rights lawyers were arrested on charges of state subversion. Some of them were charged after being held for six months.
“The United States urges China to drop these charges and immediately release these lawyers and others like them detained for seeking to protect the rights of Chinese citizens, “ said Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner.
The lawyers were among more than 130 lawyers detained last July after being accused of organizing protests outside courtrooms in an effort to pressure local authorities.
State media has called the attorneys a "criminal gang," that created public disorder.
15 years to life
Li Yuhan, a lawyer for detained attorney Wang Yu, said Wang Yu's mother received a formal arrest notice this week for her on a charges of "inciting subversion of state power", a charge that carries a possible life sentence.
Li says Wang's husband, Bao Longjun, is also accused of the same charge.
Wang Yu is known for defending Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, as well as alleged victims of sexual harassment, forced evictions and victims of illegal 'black jails.'
Li says she has not been able to meet with Wang since her detention in July. Other defendants have also reportedly been unable to meet with their lawyers.
Among the others detained are Zhou Shifeng, the founder of Beijing's Fengrui law firm, and legal assistant Zhou Wei. Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang and Sui Muqing, who work for the same law firm, have also been charged on suspicion of state subversion.
The State Department's Toner noted human rights attorneys Zhou Shifeng, Wang Yu, and Li Heping are now facing sentences ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment for efforts to represent clients, including a number of prominent human rights activists.
Last September, Wang Yu was featured as the first among twenty female political prisoners that the State Department had recognized and called for release in its Campaign of Free the 20 Women Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Concern.
Swedish man detained
Meanwhile Wednesday, China said it had detained a Swedish man on suspicion of endangering state security.
Peter Dahlin was detained on January 3 while travelling to Beijing's international airport. His Chinese girlfriend has disappeared.
Dahlin is co-founder of the China Urgent Action Working Group, which works with lawyers who provide services to victims of rights violations in the country.
In a statement, the group said Dahlin has been "arbitrarily detained on spurious accusations."
It adds that, despite repeated requests, Chinese authorities have prevented Swedish embassy officials from meeting with him.
In July, China passed a wide-reaching, national security law that was criticized for its vague wording that could make it easier to control civil society by silencing dissidents and restricting NGOs in China.