Updated: 06/13/2014 22:48 | By Agence France-Presse

Chinese police arrest prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang

Police in China on Friday arrested one of the country's most celebrated human rights lawyers, as leaders of the ruling Communist Party renew their push to punish government critics.

Chinese police arrest prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang

Protesters holding pictures of Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang stand outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, on May 14, 2014 asking for his release following his arrest in Beijing - by Philippe Lopez

Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent rights campaigner who has represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei, was arrested on suspicion of "creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information", according to a posting by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on its verified microblog.

The police added that a further investigation into Pu's "other alleged crimes" was underway.

Pu's lawyer, Si Weijiang, maintained that political reasons were behind the arrest.

"He's innocent. He hasn't committed these crimes," Si told AFP by phone Friday night.

He said that authorities had likely been incensed by critical statements Pu had made on his Sina Weibo microblogging account, which has repeatedly been shut down. 

Chinese authorities routinely round up outspoken critics of the Communist Party in the weeks before key events, and Pu was among several people detained last month after attending a private seminar commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

More than 40 journalists, lawyers, scholars and activists were held under various forms of detention ahead of the June 4th anniversary, Amnesty International said, in a larger clampdown than in previous years.

But concerns about his condition began to mount days after the anniversary, when he remained in detention even as other activists and lawyers were released.

On Monday, police denied bail to Pu, friends said.

Courts in China are controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and arrests typically lead to conviction.

Zhang Sizhi, a longtime rights lawyer, wrote in an online posting Wednesday that he was able to meet with Pu this week and that the detained lawyer has been subjected to daily interrogations lasting as long as 10 hours.

Several associates of Pu were also detained ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary including journalist Wu Wei and Xin Jian, a Chinese staff member of the Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei who recently interviewed the lawyer. Wu and Xin were released last week, according to campaign groups.

As news of Pu's arrest circulated late Friday, Ai -- the dissident artist who repeatedly clashed with authorities and has been denied a passport -- made note of the arrest on his Instagram photo-sharing account.

He posted a photo of Pu, a news story about the arrest -- and a Chinese-language expletive in the comments section below.

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