A prominent human rights lawyer in China was formally arrested and charged with state subversion on Wednesday. Wang Yu’s arrest comes as Chinese state officials continue to crackdown on activists and lawyers engaging in rights defense work.

Yu, along with dozens of other lawyers and activists, have been held in secret detention for months, after they were accused of inciting and provoking illegal activism. The group has been denied access to their lawyers since July, when the Chinese government began to detain and question hundreds of human rights activists and lawyers.

“Beijing’s hostility towards those who try to use the legal system as a check on state power has been on full display,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But efforts to silence such lawyers and activists only amplifies their demands for justice.” Human Rights Watch has been calling for the release of the detained advocates which it calls “arbitrary.” According to Human Rights Watch, between July and September 2015, Chinese authorities have detained some 300 human rights lawyers and activists throughout the country.

Yu is best known for defending free speech advocates and activists, including a member of the Feminist Five—the group that garnered international attention after they were detained for planning a campaign to combat sexual harassment.

On Wednesday, the State Department responded to the unprecedented sweep of arrests. “The United States urges China to drop these charges and immediately release these lawyers, and others like them, detained for seeking to protect the rights of Chinese citizens,” U.S. State Department Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a news briefing.

State subversion charges carry the possibility of a life sentence.

Media Resources: UK Reuters 1/14/16; Reuters 1/13/16; The Associated Press 1/13/16; Human Rights Watch 1/6/16

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