The lawyer of a prominent Chinese human rights attorney detained in Beijing said Saturday that the allegations against his client, who has been charged with disrupting public service, were “absurd”.

Yu Wensheng was seized as he left his Beijing apartment to walk his child to school by roughly a dozen people, including a SWAT team, sources told AFP on Friday.

Hours before his detention, Yu had circulated an open letter calling for five reforms to China’s constitution, including the institution of multi-candidate presidential elections.

 Yu Wensheng
In this file photo taken on January 4, 2016, Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng poses for a photograph in Beijing.
Chinese authorities detained a prominent human rights lawyer on January 19, 2018, Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP.

“We believe detaining lawyer Yu for the ‘suspected crime of disrupting public service’ is absurd,” said Huang Hanzhong, Yu’s lawyer.

“Lawyer Yu’s publishing of this recommendation letter on the internet is within his rights as a citizen, it is not illegal,” his lawyer said.

Police have not allowed Yu to meet his lawyer or family since he has been detained and had searched his office, Huang said.

While Yu is in detention, police and prosecutors will likely gather evidence and decide whether or not to bring the case to trial.

The crime carries a maximum three-year jail sentence.

The charges were “a bit far-fetched” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, while noting that authorities could later change them.

Yu has been a persistent voice for reform in China, despite the country’s sweeping and increasingly severe crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping, which has led to the jailing of numerous human rights litigators.

Yu has said that in 2014 authorities imprisoned and tortured him for 99 days for allegedly “disturbing public order”.

He is perhaps best known for being one of six lawyers who attempted to sue the Chinese government over the country’s chronic smog.

The detention order says Yu is being held at the Beijing Shijingshan Detention Center.

The local public security department said they were not clear on the details and referred questions to the Beijing Public Security Bureau, which was not open for media calls on Saturday.

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