Prominent activist Jiang Tianyong – who has been missing since November 21 – has been confirmed to be in police custody. He is suspected of illegally providing state secrets to foreign forces, illegally possessing documents containing state secrets, and the fraudulent use of another person’s identification, state-funded mainland news outlet The Paper reported.

Jiang disappeared last month as he was due to board a train to Beijing from Changsha, a city in central China. A prominent rights defence figure in China, Jiang is a former lawyer who represented politically sensitive figures such as dissident Gao Zhisheng and blind activist Chen Guangcheng. He was recently working as an advocate for the families of those detained in China’s crackdown on lawyers and rights activists.

Jiang Tianyong. Photo: Twitter.

Despite his family and friends’ inquiries to police and mounting international pressure, the authorities have not confirmed his whereabouts until now.

Jiang used the ID of someone named Huang to purchase a train ticket to Beijing and tried to board the train with the same ID, police at the Changsha railway station told The Paper. The police also allegedly found seven mobile phones, 11 SIM cards, and seven bank cards on his person.

Upon investigation, the police found that Jiang was suspected of illegally possessing documents containing state secrets and colluding with foreign organisations, groups and people and illegally providing them with state secrets. He was placed under criminal coercive measures on December 1 and police notified his family members according to the law, police said.

Previously, police at the station told Jiang’s lawyer that he was held in administrative detention for nine days but was released. They also claimed that they notified Jiang’s family by sending them a notice at Jiang’s residence in Zhengzhou by mail, but it was returned because nobody was home.

They added that Jiang had been receiving foreign funds for a long time and that he had worked on some sensitive cases as a “citizen agent.” He also spread rumours online and “incited petitioners and the family members of those involved to resist state authorities and interfered in legal cases, severely disrupting order in society and creating a negative social influence.”

Jiang Tianyong outside a Changsha detention centre where a lawyer detained in China’s crackdown is being held. Photo: Twitter.

He is also suspected of using the ID of other people to purchase travel tickets and while booking accommodation on multiple occasions.

The authorities said Jiang has admitted to “the related criminal facts” and is also suspected of other crimes, which they are now investigating.

Jiang’s wife Jin Bianling – who is based in the US – said in response to the news report that she is shocked and strongly condemns his detention.

Authorities ‘put up obstacles’

“After Jiang Tianyong’s disappearance, his family and lawyer reported his disappearance to the public security organs according to the law. The authorities all refused to accept the case and put up various obstacles – family members have never received any notice from them,” she wrote in a statement.

She also said that the allegations that Jiang made up rumours were groundless and that they were retaliation and suppression of his long-term rights defense work.

Jiang’s lawyers Qin Chenshou and Chen Jinxue also released a statement saying that they did not receive any written notice from the authorities of Jiang’s detention. They condemned the Public Security Department and the news outlet for smearing Jiang.

Jin Bianling and Jiang Tianyong. Photo: CHRLCG.

Jiang’s disappearance has been met with concern from various international groups and countries, as well as outcry from activists.

Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon told HKFP that there are many legal irregularities in Jiang Tianyong’s case: “Jiang’s father and his lawyer Qin Chenshou went to Changsha to ask about Jiang Tianyong’s situation but they were not given any written notification. They were only orally informed that Jiang Tianyong was given an administrative detention for nine days and was released on 1 December.”

“Refusing to notify Jiang’s lawyer and family but releasing news by a mainland media outlet is simply very strange,” Poon said. He added that, without a lawyer of his own choice, Jiang is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

A group of three UN experts also said in a statement last week:“We fear that Mr Jiang’s disappearance may be directly linked to his advocacy and he may be at risk of torture.” They said they could not “rule out the possibility” that state agents were to blame for his disappearance.

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, who met Jiang on a visit to China, said in the statement that he feared Jiang’s disappearance was in part a retaliation against the lawyer’s assistance to UN experts.

Clarification 17/12: A previous headline suggested Jiang had been detained Changsha, however his place of arrest has not yet been confirmed. 

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.