As the ruling Chinese Communist Party steps up security measures targeting dissidents ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, a handful of rights activists are traveling around the country displaying placards mourning those who died in the crackdown.
Beijing-based activist Qi Zhiyong, who was maimed when a tank ran over his legs on the night of June 3, 1989 in Beijing, along with Guangdong-based Li Xiaoling, Dalian-based Jiang Jianjun and Shandong-based Wang Fulei had taken photos of themselves as an act of protest.
All four activists wore T-shirts with the words "June 4th. Never Forget" printed on them. By Thursday, state security police had launched a probe into the photographs, Qi told RFA.
"I am now under surveillance, because my health isn't good enough to take a forced vacation," he said. "The state security police are investigating me."
Li Xiaoling said the group hadn't been able to get through a security cordon around the square, however, and had taken the photos nearby instead.
"The whole place was surrounded by police, although there weren't too many of them," Li said.
"State security police have ordered me to leave Beijing, but we didn't break any laws," she added. "I don't know what happened to the other two people."
The protest came as a group of activists posted photos of themselves online also wearing T-shirts commemorating the bloodshed, which came when People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops cleared Beijing of thousands of protesters calling for democracy who had camped for weeks in on Tiananmen Square.
Guangdong activist Bu Yongzhu said he fears younger people in China, who must get past the "Great Firewal" of Internet censorship to read about the events of 1989, will forget, or never learn, what really happened.
"It's a sensitive topic, but I wanted to commemorate it, because if we don't, maybe young people, or future generations, will forget about it altogether," Bu said.
"The state security police are always getting in touch for a 'chat,' lately, probably because it's a politically sensitive date," he said. "They keep asking me whether I plan to take part in any events."
The activists' protests come after authorities in Beijing detained three people out of seven who met to pray for those who died in the crackdown last weekend.
Chongqing-based activist Han Liang told RFA that he had been taken on forced "vacation" away from his home city by state security police.
"I managed successfully to commemorate June 4, 1989 twice, once when I unfurled a banner ... on a square where there were a lot of people around," Han said.
But he said it is common for the authorities to take him on "vacation," around politically sensitive dates linked to the 1989 democracy movement.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on China to end the ruling Chinese Communist Party's culture of denial around the 1989 massacre of civilians in Beijing.
"Beijing should ... immediately [end] its detention and harassment of individuals marking the occasion, meeting with survivors and their family members," the group said in a statement on its website ahead of Saturday's anniversary.
It also called for the release of Zhengzhou activist Yu Shiwen, an activist held since July 2014 for commemorating the massacre.
"Chinese authorities owe a debt of justice and accountability to survivors of the massacre and their family members," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said. "Political repression since 1989 has not eliminated yearnings for basic freedoms and an accountable government – instead it has only compounded the party’s lack of legitimacy."
Bao Tong, former top aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, and veteran political journalist Gao Yu have both been forced to leave Beijing on "vacation" in the company of state security police.
Bao's wife Jiang Zhongcao confirmed the reports to RFA on Wednesday, saying she supposes he has been escorted back to his birth town in the eastern province of Zhejiang.
"They never said, but what can I do? It's the same every year," Jiang said. "If he didn't go, then they would cut off our phone line, and we wouldn't be able to call an ambulance if we needed one."
She said Bao, whose health is frail, will be watched over by the couple's granddaughter while on vacation.
"My granddaughter will tell me that he's OK, but they won't let her say exactly where they are," she said
The administration of President Xi Jinping has broadened government control over freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and the right to political participation, continuing a trend set in place after the 1989 crackdown, HRW said.
"The government has drafted or promulgated new state security laws that put in place more restrictive controls over civil society [and] further curtailed expression on the Internet and media," it said, adding that hundreds of activists have been held in recent years.
Since 1989, former student leaders including Wu'er Kaixi and Xiong Yan have been unable to re-enter China, and were refused entry into Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014, it said.
The Tiananmen massacre was precipitated by the peaceful gatherings of students, workers, and others in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other cities in April 1989 calling for freedom of expression, accountability, and an end to corruption, but the government responded by instituting martial law, HRW said.
The number of deaths in the violence remains unknown, although the victims' group the Tiananmen Mothers have compiled exact accounts of the deaths of 202 people across China, including Beijing.
HRW called on Beijing to reappraise its verdict that the protests were a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" that had to be suppressed with force.
It said officials should meet with and apologize to members of the Tiananmen Mothers and launch an independent public inquiry into the events of June 1989.
"Instead of advancing, China has stagnated, and even regressed, in terms of political reforms since 1989," Richardson said. "Beijing can only move forward by facing up to its painful past, as others have had the confidence to do, and as people across China clearly want."
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written by Luisetta Mudie.