By Ben Blanchard and Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - A leading liberal magazine in China has halted publication after a government body forced a sudden reshuffle of its leadership team, which its lawyer on Tuesday blamed on an effort to stifle voices that disagree with the ruling Communist Party.

Since taking office more than three years ago, President Xi Jinping has cracked down on dissent, reining in the media and detaining dozens of rights activists. The government denies any abuse of human rights or freedom of expression, saying it is going after lawbreakers.

Founded in 1991, the magazine, Yanhuang Chunqiu, also known as China Through the Ages, is known for challenging party views on sensitive issues, such as political reform and the Cultural Revolution.

It has been seen as a forum for more reform-minded officials and claims a circulation of about 200,000.

Last week, the Chinese National Academy of Arts, which is technically in charge of the magazine, decided to demote or replace its leadership, including publisher Du Daozheng, 92, a former head of the government's publishing regulator.

In a statement dated Sunday and circulated online, Du said the magazine would stop publishing, accusing the academy of violating freedom of publication and of sending people to force their way into the newsroom and seize control of the website.

The academy did not answer repeated telephone calls to seek comment. China's publishing regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, also did not respond to requests for comment.

The State Council Information Office, which oversees press communications for China's cabinet, did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

The magazine's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters the party had clearly decided it had had enough of the magazine.

"It is the only magazine that speaks the truth," Mo said. "They don't want the magazine to exist anymore."

Du is in hospital, Mo said. Du's daughter, Du Mingming, herself under medical treatment in the United States, told Reuters she and her father would refuse to work anywhere else.

"We would rather be a broken piece of jade than a whole tile," she said, invoking a Chinese proverb that rates a glorious death preferable to living in dishonor.

The party has tried to shut the magazine 19 times in the past 25 years, one of its editors told Reuters, seeking anonymity because the situation is sensitive.

It escaped closure last year after Xi intervened, a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Yanhuang Chunqiu's old comrades are not anti-party," the source quoted Xi as saying, referring to the publisher and his team.

(Editing by John Ruwitch and Clarence Fernandez)