BEIJING Chinese police have detained a prominent rights lawyer suspected of "creating a disturbance," and another who had said he was being followed is thought to have been taken into custody, the latest examples of a sustained crackdown on dissent.
Meanwhile, a retired Chinese man who took photographs of police officers at a proposed pro-democracy "Jasmine Revolution" protest in Beijing was sentenced to labor re-education, in the second confirmed punishment in less than a week for the Middle East-inspired gatherings that were squashed by wary authorities.
Dozens of Chinese rights lawyers, activists and grassroots agitators have been detained or have lost contact with friends and relatives since February, when fears of contagion from Middle East and North Africa uprisings triggered a crackdown by China's domestic security apparatus.
Detained lawyer Ni Yulan, 49, was not involved with promoting the online calls for pro-democracy "Jasmine Revolution" gatherings that have recently led to a sweeping crackdown on dissidents, a person close to Ni, who declined to be named, told Reuters by telephone.
"She has nothing to do with it. She can't move at all, so there's no way for her to participate. She was very careful about not getting involved," the person said.
Ni, who is known for defending the rights of people evicted from their homes, was left disabled by a police beating in 2002 after filming the forced demolition of a client's home, and then jailed.
Ni's 26-year-old daughter has not been allowed to see her and does not know the reasons for the disturbance charge, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from authorities.
"The innocent are being taken away. It's getting more and more terrifying out there."
Ni's detention adds to evidence that the ruling Communist Party is determined to stamp out China's fledgling civil rights movement, already reeling from the detention of several of its lawyers, with those remaining being closely watched by authorities.
At least six human rights lawyers, including Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong, have disappeared since late February.
Ni was also jailed and beaten by police in 2008 for defending the rights of people evicted from their homes to make way for Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics. She was released in April last year.
Another rights lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, has been uncontactable in Beijing since Thursday night, adding to fears he may be the latest lawyer to have been detained.
Nobody has heard from Liu, who told Reuters last week that he has given advice to the family of detained Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, since he posted a message on his microblog on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, on Thursday night that he was being followed by an unidentified person.
Liu's mobile phone was turned off on Friday.
The London-based International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute said on Thursday it was concerned "over the intimidation, abuse, and the worsening situation of human rights lawyers in China, as an expanding catalog of abductions by the Chinese authorities creates a climate of fear."
ANOTHER MAN SENT TO Labor CAMP
Yang Qiuyu, 48, has been sentenced to two years of "re-education through labor," his wife, Wang Yuqin, told Reuters by telephone.
Yang, who is an agitator for petitioners' rights, was seized by police at Beijing's Xidan intersection -- site of the Democracy Wall calls for reform in 1978 -- on March 6 and then detained the next day, Wang said.
Yang was planning to publish photographs of police officers at Xidan on the Internet, according to Wang.
Wang said she had received a notice from the police on Thursday that her husband would be sent to a labor camp, adding that she plans to hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Chinese authorities for sending her husband to a labor camp without trial.
"This case will be fought on behalf of all people fighting for human rights," Wang said. "We want to request the government to remove all labor camps.
"They want to use labor camps to crush dissent."
Yang previously had to undergo "re-education through labor" for two years and six months in 2003 after he protested against an illegal land seizure, Wang said.
China's "re-education through labor" system empowers police and other agencies to sentence people to up to four years' confinement without going through the courts.
It is a system that critics say undermines rule of law, and rights activists say it targets political prisoners, as well as prostitutes and drug users.
A 21-year-old Chinese man who attended a proposed pro-democracy "Jasmine Revolution" protest in Beijing was sentenced to labor re-education last week.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ken Wills and Andrew Marshall)