A mainland human rights lawyer and two activists, all placed under criminal detention last month, have been formally arrested for state subversion in a move that lawyers described as an "escalation of political repression".
Tang Jingling, detained since May 16 on a charge of "starting quarrels and provoking trouble", is now under arrest for the far more serious charge of "inciting subversion of state power", his wife, Wang Yanfang, wrote on her Weibo microblog.
"Are all dissidents suspected of inciting subversion of state power now? I call on lawyers to get together and demarcate the legal boundary. What evidence is there that he's suspected of that?" she wrote. "Tang's China dream of freedom and democracy made him guilty of subversion."
Tang was detained on the previous charge after being taken from his home in Guangzhou last month.
Tang promoted a non-violent civil disobedience movement that encouraged mediation to commemorate the June 4 anniversary and opening the market to private investment.
Activists Wang Qingying and Yuan Xinting, both connected with Tang's movement, were formally arrested recently and also face state subversion charges, rights lawyer Sui Muqing said.
"I was told that Wang would be allowed to go if he testified against Tang, but he wouldn't betray his friend," Sui said. "Making the charge of state subversion against them is clearly an escalation of political repression."
Beijing rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said many activists were rounded up for "making trouble" ahead of the June 4 anniversary but rarely were they charged with state subversion.
"I'm not sure whether prosecutors have evidence to support the charges, but there clearly has been a concerted effort to clamp down on dissent since last year," he said. This year several activists from the moderate New Citizens Movement, a loose network in various cities who held small protests against government corruption and other causes, have received jail sentences of up to 61/2 years, mostly for disrupting public order.
Beijing rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who also was detained ahead of the June 4 anniversary, was arrested this month for "creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information".