A well-known Chinese civil rights lawyer has been taken into police custody after sharing information about the Panama Papers on social media, human rights groups have said.
Ge Yongxi, an outspoken attorney known for defending underground church leaders and political and social activists, was taken from his home in Foshan, a city in southern China, at about midnight on Thursday by five plain-clothes policemen, according to activists and his lawyer.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) advocacy group claimed that Ge’s detention was connected to online posts about “state leaders”.
It said the police officers who “seized” Ge had asked him if he had been involved in spreading material about the Panama Papers.
Chen Jinxue, the detained man’s lawyer, told the Guardian that Ge believed his detention was related to the Panama Papers.
“According to his relatives, he posted something about the top leaders on his WeChat account,” Chen said on Friday afternoon. “He was taken at about midnight.”
Chen said police had informed Ge’s family that he had been “taken away for interrogation” in the early hours of Friday morning.
Ge’s mobile phone appeared to have been switched off on Friday.
Beijing has sought to snuff out any discussion of the Panama Papers, which show that relatives of eight senior Communist party leaders had used secretive offshore companies to store their wealth.
Documents from the leaked Mossack Fonseca database of 11.5m files revealed that relations of three of the seven members of the Communist party’s ruling council, the politburo standing committee, had links to the offshore law firm, including those of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
Chinese websites were forbidden from publishing material about the Panama Papers, while the Guardian website was partially blocked in mainland China.
China’s once vibrant community of civil rights lawyers, of which Ge is a prominent member, has been coming under increasing pressure since last July, when a major government offensive against their trade began.
Observers say Xi’s rise to power has coincided with the most severe period of political tightening since the days following the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In an interview with US government-funded Voice of America last year, Gecriticised the clampdown, which activists believe is part of Xi’s attempt to silence dissent as China braces itself for a potentially damaging economic slowdown.
Ge vowed to continue denouncing human rights abuses in spite of the crackdown.
“I speak with my true consciousness,” he said. “Even if that invites trouble, I have no plan of avoiding it.”
Additional reporting by Christy Yao