Zhou Lubao, the online activist who famously challenged the mayor of Gansu's provincial capital Lanzhou last year, has disappeared after being summoned by provincial police in Beijing earlier this week.
The Public Security Department of Suzhou, Jiangsu's provincial capital, has called in Zhou, 28, for questioning on Tuesday evening in Beijing, according to a summons order.
Zhou has not been seen since, his girlfriend, surnamed Chen, told the Southern Metropolis Daily, according to an article published on Friday. She said that Beijing police informed her that Zhou had been taken to Jiangsu by Suzhou police on Wednesday afternoon. There, police declined to provide her with information on his whereabouts, she said.
As of Friday, a mobile phone number Zhou has used in the past and his Sina Weibo microblog were de-activated. His disappearance comes amid a wider crackdown on citizen journalists and whistleblowers, which has seen more than a 100 privately-run news websites shut down over the last three months.
State Council's National Internet Information Office has said it is cracking down on these websites, because they either lack official registration or have used "fabricated or negative news" to extort officials or companies.
In December, Zhou Lubao revealed photos of Lanzhou's mayor Yuan Zhanting wearing expensive Swiss watches he couldn't possibly afford with his official salary, including a Vacheron Constantin valued around 200,000 yuan (HK$253,000). His report triggered an investigation into the mayor's income.
Yuan continues to serve as mayor of the provincial capital, but has stopped showing off pricey timepieces at official appearances and tends to wear long-sleeved shirts.
The episode has turned Zhou, a sales representative of household appliances in Haining, Zhejiang province, by day, into one of China's most prominent independent whistleblowers.
In June, he accused a monastery in Jiangsu province in an online post of employing fake monks and defrauding believers. It is unclear whether the accusations he made are related to his detention.