BEIJING — Prominent legal activist Yu Wensheng has been charged with inciting subversion of state power after writing a letter calling for democratic reforms, his lawyer said Monday.

Police informed Yu’s wife of the charge on Saturday, lawyer Huang Hanzhong said. Inciting subversion is a vaguely worded charge often used to muzzle dissent.

Earlier this month, more than a dozen police officers grabbed Yu, a lawyer in Beijing, while he was waiting in his car to take his 13-year-old son to school. The seizure came a day after he posted a letter online calling on the ruling Communist Party to reform the Chinese Constitution and allow open presidential elections.

“The president, the head of state, is basically appointed without any meaningful election. It has no credibility for the country, for civil society and for countries across the world,” Yu said in the letter.

Huang said police also took Yu’s wife, Xu Yan, to the Shijingshan police station in Beijing on Saturday on the same charge, though they released her the next day.

Police searched Yu’s home and office and seized computers, USB drives, cellphones and various files documenting cases that Yu had handled in recent years, Huang said.

Reached by phone, an official at the Shijingshan police station directed queries on Yu to its Xingucheng branch. An official at Xingucheng in turn referred questions back to the Shijingshan station.

Xu was told her husband’s case would be handed over to a police bureau in the eastern city of Xuzhou in Jiangsu province for further investigation though no reason was provided, the lawyer said. Chinese authorities sometimes transfer politically sensitive cases to courts and prosecutors far from where the alleged offenses took place, moves activists say are intended to make it difficult for supporters to pressure the authorities.

Yu gained widespread attention after being detained for three months in 2014, during which he says he was tortured and questioned. He was detained again in 2015 but released after a day when his case received wide publicity.

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