WASHINGTON The United States has urged China to stop what it called the "extralegal" detention and abduction of leading lawyers and human rights activists, the State Department said Tuesday.
"The United States is increasingly concerned by the apparent extralegal detention and enforced disappearance of some of China's most well-known lawyers and activists, many of whom have been missing since mid-February," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Crowley said a number of well-known Chinese figures including law professor Teng Biao and lawyers Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong had all disappeared between February 16-19.
"We have expressed our concern to the Chinese government over the use of extra-legal punishments against these and other human rights activists," Crowley said.
"We continue to urge China to uphold its internationally recognized obligations of universal human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly."
Rights groups say dozens of Chinese activists have been rounded up in response to Internet calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" to emulate Middle East protests for human rights.
Chinese authorities have also barred foreign reporters from sites of would-be protests in Beijing, and stepped up censorship and Internet controls as they move to stifle public signs of dissent.
Crowley said the United States had also brought up the issue of journalists with Beijing. "This has been a subject of long-standing concern and long-standing discussion with China," he said.
The United States has stepped up its criticism of Beijing's human rights record in recent months, and U.S. President Barack Obama brought up the issue during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington in January.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February singled out Beijing as one of the governments facing the "dictator's dilemma" of trying to control the Internet while also taking advantage of its opportunities.
China, which rejects criticism of its human rights record as meddling in its internal affairs, responded by deleting U.S. embassy blog posts about Clinton's speech.
(reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Jackie Frank)