Veteran mainland journalist Xiao Shu was taken by police from a Beijing restaurant yesterday - in an apparent effort to halt his campaign for the release of legal activist Xu Zhiyong .
"[Xiao Shu] told me in a WeChat message around 2pm that home security officers were taking him out of Beijing," said Wang Gongquan , a businessman from Beijing.
Xiao Shu, who real name is Chen Min, is a former columnist with the outspoken Southern Weekly. He now writes for Yanhuang Chunqiu, a magazine known for pushing the boundaries in its calls for political reform.
On Wednesday, Xiao Shu, Wang and liberal economist Mao Yushi started a signature campaign calling on authorities to release Xu, a law lecturer at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications who was detained last month.
Xu, like Xiao Shu, is among the most prominent proponents of the New Citizen movement, which seeks more government transparency and more respect for rights guaranteed in the constitution. Wang said that Xiao Shu was informed yesterday evening that officers would take him "to lunch" at a Xueyuan Street restaurant, in Beijing's university district.
"He said there is no way to get out of it, so he made preparations," Wang said. "He told me if he didn't call on Friday, it would mean that they had taken him away."
Wang said he then received the text message in which Xiao Shu confirmed his detention. Xu's case was among those raised by the Americans during the annual Sino-US human rights dialogue this week in Kunming , Yunnan province, in which the US criticised China for failing to meet its expectations.
But a senior US official said yesterday that the Americans got few answers to questions about detained Chinese activists.
Uzra Zeya, the acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, said she raised specific cases during the talks, including that of jailed Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo , as well as his wife, Liu Xia , who is now under extra-judicial house arrest.
"Regrettably yes, I think we've continued to see a deterioration in the overall human rights situation in China," Zeya said, pointing to growing harassment of activists' family.