By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have arrested a veteran dissident, Zhu Yufu, on subversion charges, his ex-wife and a friend said on Wednesday, making him the fourth activist known to have been arrested and likely to face trial in a crackdown on dissent.
Police in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China, told Zhu's ex-wife, Jiang Hangli, on Tuesday that prosecutors had approved his arrest for "inciting subversion of state power," Jiang told Reuters by telephone.
"Before he was detained on March 5, he'd been followed everywhere he went, 24 hours a day for 20 days by the security people, so he never had any chance to participate in any political activities," said Jiang, who still shares an apartment with Zhu.
The subversion charge is a broad accusation often used to punish denunciations of the ruling Communist Party and calls for democratic reform. Three other dissidents have already been arrested under it since authorities began a broad clampdown in February to stamp out calls for protests inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Middle East.
"We don't know the specific reasons, but our guess is that it may be related to a poem he wrote that suggested people go out to stroll on the square and on the streets," said Zhu Zhengming, a pro-democracy advocate and friend of Zhu Yufu in Hangzhou.
"But he didn't say any time or place or suggest that people wave any banners or shout any slogans. He just called for a stroll."
GOING FOR A STROLL
Group "strolls" have become one way for Chinese people to show, in an oblique way, discontent with the government.
Neither Zhu, 58, nor the other three dissidents arrested for subversion -- Chen Wei, Ran Yunfei and Ding Mao -- have anything near the prominence of Ai Weiwei, the artist-activist whose detention triggered criticism from the United States, European Union and other Western governments.
But the arrests of such hitherto obscure dissidents in provincial China has laid bare the scope of the government's offensive against political foes. A formal arrest makes it much more likely that a suspect will face trial and conviction by party-run courts.
Police rounded up dozens of dissidents in response to online calls for "Jasmine Revolution" rallies inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.
Human rights groups said then that Zhu may have been detained for spreading messages online about the rally calls.
Those calls began on an overseas Chinese website blocked to most people in mainland China without the means to overcome censorship walls. The attempted rallies were tiny and smothered by hundreds of police and security guards.
Public security and prosecution offices in Shangcheng District of Hangzhou, which authorised the arrest, refused to answer telephone questions about it. "Whether a person has been arrested is his own private business," said a police officer.
Zhu, who has spent much of his adult life in pro-democracy activism, was jailed in 1999 for his involvement in the China Democratic Party, a group that challenged one-party rule. He was released in 2006, only to be jailed again in 2007 for two years, according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
A 21-year-old former art student who attended a proposed "Jasmine Revolution" protest in Beijing was sentenced to labor re-education, in the first confirmed punishment for the gatherings.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)