Human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng detained in China

Beijing (dpa) - Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng became the latest victim in China's crackdown on human rights defenders when he was detained in Beijing on Friday according to his wife.

Xu Yan said her husband he was detained by authorities early in the morning. "Yu Wensheng wanted to bring the kids to the school. There were two police cars, one minibus and a SWAT team car, they took him away," Xu said by phone.

"I called the local police station, the emergency number, but could not get any news on what happened to him. I have no idea where they have taken him," she said.

Xu said her husband’s arrest may be linked to his open letter published on Thursday asking for constitutional reform. Yu had previously voiced criticism of October's 19th Party Congress.

His legal licence was revoked this week, while he was previously denied an application to open a new law firm for giving statements "rejecting the leadership of the party" and "attacking the socialist Rule of Law in China,” according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

The timing is unsurprising, says Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, as Beijing gears up for the National People’s Congress in March, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament.

“In some ways, Yu’s detention is not entirely unusual, as the authorities tend to get nervous ahead of important high-level meetings and would round up activists during such occasions. But his detention also reflects a greater level of repression in China under Xi,” Wang said.

“In the past, public intellectuals and lawyers issuing public letters calling for constitutional reforms would have been a largely tolerated practice; but now even this is considered 'sensitive' by the authorities.”

Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International, said that Yu’s detention also showed Beijing’s dwindling tolerance of domestic dissent.

"It’s extremely worrying if he'll be charged with any serious crimes like 'inciting subversion of state power,'" Poon said.

Yu joins the ranks of more than 250 human rights lawyers detained since July 2015 in a widespread crackdown, according to Amnesty International.

Many arrests culminate in forced confessions on television following months of silence, while detained lawyers have also reported torture and mistreatment during their time in prison, Amnesty said.

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