China has detained at least 54 dissidents, activists and others in an ongoing severe crackdown on dissent highlighted by the recent detention of famed artist Ai Weiwei, a rights group said Friday.
The latest to be taken into custody include Ni Yulan, an outspoken wheelchair-bound activist for housing rights, and her husband Dong Jiqin, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement.
Ni was detained April 7 in Beijing for "creating a disturbance", and Dong also is missing after being taken away by police, CHRD said. Beijing police denied knowledge of their cases when contacted by AFP.
China has launched a fierce crackdown on government critics and activists in an apparent bid to squelch any political movements similar to the "Jasmine" revolutions that have rocked the Arab world.
After the Middle East unrest, online calls for anti-government demonstrations in China also surfaced. Police have clamped down to prevent that, and no protests have been reported.
Earlier this month, police took into custody Ai Weiwei, an internationally known artist who has angered authorities with his involvement in a number of sensitive activist campaigns and his criticism of the ruling Communist Party.
The government has said the burly, bearded avant-garde artist was detained on suspicion of "economic crimes" but has provided no evidence, details, or access to the accused.
However, Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper -- which is controlled by China's government -- reported on Thursday that police have solid evidence that Ai evaded paying his taxes and was "confessing".
Citing unnamed sources, it said the amount of taxes avoided by Ai was "quite large" and that it had "solid witness, documented, and circumstantial evidence" of his guilt.
It said he also was suspected of bigamy and disseminating pornography on the Internet. Neither Ai's wife, lawyer or other family members were immediately reachable by AFP on Friday.
CHRD said it had documented the criminal detention of at least 38 dissidents and activists, while 16 other people were missing after being taken away by police.
Ai's detention has drawn worldwide condemnation, with the United States, Britain, France and numerous rights groups calling for his release. Ai, born in 1957, currently has his work on display in London's Tate Modern gallery.
Human rights activists have condemned the Chinese crackdown, saying authorities were trampling China's own laws aimed at protecting citizens from arbitrary arrest and ensuring freedom of expression.