China detains rights lawyer ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese police on Friday detained a prominent rights lawyer, his wife said, the latest of around 20 activists held on criminal charges ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

China's ruling Communist Party forbids virtually all public discussion of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, which were crushed on June 4, 1989 when soldiers killed hundreds of pro-democracy protestors.

Mr Tang Jingling, an attorney who has represented uncompensated victims of land grabs and imprisoned rights defenders, was taken in on a charge of "causing a disturbance," his wife Wan Yangfang said.

Police have detained at least 19 other prominent liberal academics, lawyers and activists in the past month, according to the US-based group Human Rights in China.

China generally rounds up dissidents ahead of dates it considers sensitive, but rights groups say this year's detentions have been unusually widespread.

Those detained this month include Mr Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most celebrated human rights lawyers, who was held earlier this month along with four others who participated in a private seminar discussing the Tiananmen protests.

The five were taken in on suspicion of "causing a disturbance", a vague charge that rights groups say is abused by police to round up dissenters.

At least four current or former journalists with connections to liberal activists have also been detained on criminal charges this month, according to Human Rights in China.

Japan's Nikkei newspaper said on Friday that a Chinese assistant at its Chongqing bureau in southwest China had been taken into custody on Tuesday by local authorities.

Police said the assistant was detained in connection with the investigation into Mr Pu, the Nikkei said, after accompanying a journalist to an interview with the lawyer.

Also arrested this month were Mr Wu Wei, a former reporter for Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, and Ms Gao Yu, a veteran reporter previously jailed for her writing on the Tiananmen protests, who was accused of "leaking state secrets".

China's ruling party has pushed forward major economic reforms which have boosted growth since the Tiananmen crackdown, but has consistently suppressed activists judged to pose a threat to its grip on power.