Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan on Tuesday released two of the "Zhengzhou 10" activists and lawyers amid growing calls for the release of the other seven.
Rights lawyer Ji Laisong and Zhengzhou-based activists Fang Yan and Chen Wei were released "on bail" after being detained in May after the group tried to commemorate this year's anniversary of the brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown.
"I was initially detained for 'obstructing official duty,' but my formal arrest was on charges of 'picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,'" Ji told RFA shortly after his release.
He said he had been cut off from all contact with the outside world during his detention.
"I think it's a sort of deterrent; you have no contact with anyone inside or outside the detention center, and this is done to make you afraid," Ji said.
"They didn't let the others out, like Yu Shiwen, because he was one of their main targets," he added.
'On bail' release
The release of political detainees "on bail" is sometimes used by China's state security police as a means of exerting continued control over their actions and movements, knowing that they can be redetained at any time.
Fang Yan's lawyer Lin Qilei said all three detainees had been escorted home after their release by police.
"A lot of people were waiting at the gate [of the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center] to welcome them, but they were taken straight home by police," Lin said.
"They wouldn't let anybody see them."
But Yu Shiwen's sister told RFA she had eaten dinner with Chen Wei, and that she seemed to be in good health.
"Chen Wei came home today," she said. "She seems fine, both physically and mentally."
She said Chen had been unable to see her husband while in detention.
"She wasn't able to see anyone," she said.
Meanwhile, Dong Guangping's wife said she had had no news whatsoever about her husband.
"I've heard no news from him, and they won't let the lawyers visit him," she said.
"I certainly haven't been informed whether or not he's being released on bail."
The group was detained after some of them held a memorial to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on a student democracy movement and for two late former premiers, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang.
The release of Ji and the others follows a lengthy and vocal campaign for the supporters of the civil rights and anti-corruption campaigners for their release.
Zhengzhou activists Jia Lingmin and Liu Diwei, Chen Wei's husband Yu Shiwen, Hou Shuai, Fang Yan and Dong Guangping remain behind bars after being formally arrested on public order charges in July.
Ji's colleague, lawyer Chang Boyang, who was initially hired to represent the activists, is still in custody under formal arrest.
Journalists Shi Ping, who goes by the pen name Shi Yu, Yin Yusheng and Shao Shengdong were also detained around the same time, but Shi and Shao were later released on bail.
Yin Yusheng remains under criminal detention rather than formal arrest.
Ji said police treated him as a suspect rather than a lawyer and seemed mostly interested in the Tiananmen memorial event during questioning.
"The questions were mainly focused on the memorial," he said. "I think they released me on bail because it suited them."
Authorities detained dozens of activists, lawyers, academics and journalists before the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square bloodshed and tightened controls on dissent, free speech and the Internet.
Many of those who were placed under house arrest or taken on enforced "vacations" were later released, while others face trial on public order charges similar to those the Zhengzhou 10 are accused of.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party bans public memorials marking the event, although police have escorted the relatives of those who died from house arrest to cemeteries to pay their respects to loved ones in private.
The Party has continued to ignore growing calls in China and from overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which it once styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989, remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary uprising," has not issued an official toll or list of names.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.