A Chinese journalist who helped cover the Hong Kong democracy protests for a German publication was freed without charge Thursday following nine months in detention.
Zhang Miao and three artists who were detained along with her last October also were released, their supporters said.
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However, on Friday morning, Zhang's lawyer, Zhou Shifeng, was taken by force by three unidentified men from a hotel after he picked up Zhang from the detention center in a Beijing suburb, a business partner said. It raised concerns that Beijing is targeting rights lawyers who have lent strong legal support to activists, artists and journalists.
Zhou's whereabouts were not immediately clear, although his supporters believe he was taken away by Chinese authorities.
Zhou, who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday, said he had argued to prosecutors that the evidence against Zhang was obtained through coercion and torture, and should be considered illegal.
"We had expected her release because we believed the evidence was invalid and could not be used," Zhou said.
Zhang, a news assistant for German weekly Die Zeit, was initially detained on a disturbance charge. Zhou said she was subject to sleep deprivation and intimidation during the detention.
Zhang's detention highlights the precarious situation for Chinese nationals working for foreign media, as they often become targets of police harassment and intimidation. Angela Koeckritz, the Beijing correspondent for Die Zeit, left China after she also felt pressure from authorities following Zhang's detention.
Die Zeit's deputy editor-in-chief, Moritz Mueller-Wirth, said Koeckritz was informed on Thursday morning of Zhang's planned release.
"We are very glad and thank from the bottom of our hearts everyone who contributed in the last few months to this solution," he said in an emailed statement, without giving details.
Zhang and the three artists were detained in Beijing in October just ahead of a planned poetry reading in support of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
In a separate case, another prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu and her family have been out of contact since Thursday morning. She also is believed to be taken away by Chinese police, although police have yet to confirm that.
This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Koeckritz's surname, which carries an umlaut in German.