Police filed subversion charges against a prolific blogger and writer, his wife said Monday, in a bellwether detention since anonymous online calls circulated for Chinese to imitate the pro-democracy protests of North Africa and the Middle East.
Ran Yunfei, an uncompromising voice for free speech, was taken into custody five weeks ago just as those protest calls first came. His wife, Wang Wei, said she received a police notice Monday that was dated Friday and said Ran was charged with subversion of state power.
The move allows police to detain Ran longer for criminal investigation and brings him a step closer to prosecution.
Though the Internet calls for Chinese to stage protests every Sunday have not drawn large crowds of overt protesters, the authoritarian government has mounted an outsized response, detaining more than 100 bloggers, lawyers and activists, according to human rights groups. Several prominent civil rights lawyers have disappeared, in a tactic that is becoming more common against government critics.
In a separate, significant disappearance, a United Nations committee has called on Beijing to release a prominent human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, who has been missing for nearly a year.
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Gao's detention violates international law because the government failed to meet minimum international standards for due process. It urged Beijing "for reparation for the harm caused." The U.N. request came in July but was made public Monday by Freedom Now, a U.S.-based legal advocacy group.
Charismatic and pugnacious, Gao was a leader in the small community of rights lawyers in the first part of the past decade. He represented religious dissenters, including members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, and advocated constitutional reform until run-ins with the authorities and lengthy detentions began in 2006.
After a 14-month disappearance ended with his resurfacing last March, Gao told The Associated Press in an interview that he had been shunted between Beijing, to central Shaanxi province and the western region of Xinjiang. He described periods of abuse, including a 48-hour stretch during which he was repeatedly pistol-whipped and beaten. He disappeared again last April and not been heard from since.
Before being taken away last month, Ran, the blogger, was a voluble presence online for more than a decade. A self-described bookworm, Ran frequently criticized government policies and called for tolerance for dissenting views.
When domestic websites would no longer carry his outspoken views, he moved his blogs and Twitter posts to sites outside China, and many of his readers followed him, circumventing government blocks to read his material.
Wang said her husband is being kept at the Dujiangyan detention center, and she has not been allowed to visit him. They are hoping to find a lawyer to represent him, but she declined to speak further, saying it was "not convenient" for her to talk.
In one of his last postings on Twitter, Ran wrote, "The government, on one hand, bans freedom of the press and does not allow the free flow of information. On the other hand, they block the truth. Under these circumstances, the rumors prevail." After Feb. 19, his account went silent.