The girlfriend of prominent Chinese legal activist Xu Zhiyong was formally arrested by authorities in eastern China on Monday after being detained for over a month and has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power”, according to her close friends.
Li Qiaochu, 30, is being held at a hospital in Linyi, Shandong province, the friends said, citing Li’s lawyer and her parents, who they say have been told by authorities not to speak to the media.
The friends said the 30-year-old had initially completed a coronavirus quarantine period in hospital after being taken by police from Beijing to Linyi, and that she had also been diagnosed with depression.
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Xu, 47, was arrested in February last year after he took part in a meeting with civil rights lawyers and activists in the southeastern city of Xiamen about three months earlier during which “democratic transition in China” was discussed. Ding Jiaxi, a former lawyer and veteran activist, was also arrested and detained by police in Shandong province.
They are expected to stand trial soon on charges of “subversion of state power”.
Li said in a post on Twitter last month that both men had been tortured while in detention. The day of the tweet, Li was interrogated and taken away by police in Beijing and later taken to Linyi, according to close friend Teresa Zhao.
Ding’s wife, Luo Shengchun, also said earlier that her husband had been mistreated by police.
Li’s lawyer, Li Guobei, could not be reached for comment.
Zhao said Li Qiaochu’s parents were “reluctant to talk” about their daughter.
“They understand and support Qiaochu and they are worried about her health,” she said, adding that Li needed regular medication for depression.
Last year, Li spent four months in “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of detention in China – after she made public an article Xu wrote criticising President Xi Jinping for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and calling for his resignation.
Another close friend, Allan Wang, said Li had been constantly harassed by police, who kept her under close surveillance.
“She is in poor health and her thyroid and heart are not good,” Wang said. “She has been followed, harassed and threatened by police for a long time.”
Both Wang and Zhao said they were worried that Li could be facing a jail term given the seriousness of the charge. “Inciting subversion of state power” is a charge that is often used against dissidents and activists in China.
Li, who studied at Renmin University of China and the University of York in Britain, has campaigned for the rights of migrant workers for years and researched the issue at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
She has also spoken out on women’s rights, including during the #MeToo movement in recent years.
Independent political analyst Wu Yangwei said it was likely Li was arrested because of her Twitter post about Xu and Ding.
“Communist Party leaders have learned from the ‘709 crackdown’ that wives and partners of activists can be very vocal [and effective] in attracting attention from the outside world,” said Wu, referring to the mass arrests of human rights lawyers and activists six years ago.
“So they would not want this to happen again.”
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