An outspoken former Chinese rights attorney has been arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”, as the Chinese government continues to crack down on the country’s rights activists and political dissidents.

Tan Yongpei, 50, who often criticised Beijing on social media including Twitter, was arrested on Tuesday in southern China, according to an arrest notice seen by AFP.

“He dares to say anything online,” explained Tan’s wife, Deng Xiaoyun.

Tan Yongpei
Tan Yongpei. Photo: RFA.

That is why her husband was accused of inciting state subversion, she told AFP over the phone — “it would be the easiest charge to give”.

Tan “drew a lot of attention, and possibly retaliation, from the authorities for openly criticising and reporting high-level public officials”, added Doriane Lau, a researcher at Amnesty International.

Tan, who was detained last month in Nanning, southern Guangxi region, often took to social media to comment on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Communist Party, including pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The Chinese lawyer, who was disbarred in May last year, is also among the growing number of rights lawyers in China to be stripped of their license to practise — a method activists say effectively silences rights attorneys without attracting as much attention as an arrest.

The widespread disbarment of rights lawyers — at least a dozen have had their licenses cancelled or revoked since 2018, according to government documents — follows one of the largest clampdowns on China’s legal profession in the country’s recent history.

A police sweep launched on July 9, 2015 saw more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists detained or questioned in a huge operation — later dubbed the “709 crackdown” — that rights groups called “unprecedented”.

“That authorities arrested Tan is outright political persecution,” said Sui Muqing, a Chinese lawyer who was detained during the “709 crackdown” and a friend of Tan’s.

His arrest is also “an escalation of political persecution towards lawyers”, he added.

Nanning police did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

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