Chinese activists are being held under tight surveillance ahead of the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown, as an international rights group says China's growing economic muscle has spelled bad news for human rights.
In the eastern province of Zhejiang, pro-democracy activist Lu Gengsong said he was summoned by local state security police for questioning, his wife said on Thursday.
"He was called down to the local police station at around 10.00 a.m. by five or six officers," Wang Xue'e said.
"When I got to the police station, they had taken Lu Gengsong through to where they put the criminals," she said. "They were very serious."
"I haven't been able to get in touch with him since; his phone is turned off," Wang added.
Fellow Zhejiang activist Chen Shuqing, who along with Lu was a member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP), said he had been told by the authorities to expect surveillance ahead of the June 4 anniversary.
"The state security police have already paid me a visit; they told me that in the period around June 4 there would be some restrictions on my activities," Chen said, adding that he had been told to expect surveillance for about 10 days in total.
"For them to be talking about this so far in advance means they must be even more nervous than in previous years," he said.
Authorities in the eastern province of Shandong approached netizen Zhao Pengfei on Tuesday, summoning him to meet with state security police and questioning him about his retweet of an article by Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling titled "June 4: Quiet Reflection Day."
"They told me not to do it again, that it was for my family," Zhao said in an interview on Thursday. "I told them my view, but they just kept telling me it was pointless and that I shouldn't do it."
Activists in the southwestern province of Guizhou said the authorities had begun similar measures in recent days, posting surveillance teams to place restrictions on the freedom of Guizhou Human Rights Forum members Li Renke and Mei Chongbiao, among others.
Around 10 members of the group were detained last November after Chen Xi, now serving a jail term for subversion, and Li Renke tried to seek nomination in forthcoming elections to district-level legislative bodies.
The Forum has been the target of official harassment since it was set up on World Human Rights Day in 2005, with members subjected to police surveillance, detention, and house arrest whenever it tries to meet.
It was formally banned by the authorities, according to notices issued by the local government in early December.
In the northeastern city of Jinan, retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said he had been under 24-hour guard since the middle of this month.
"I am under surveillance right now, [and] have been since the 15th," Sun said on Thursday. "I'm guessing this will last until June 4."
"Last year it only lasted three or four days, so it's for a much longer period this year."
Sun said there were two police officers stationed round-the-clock in a car outside his home, who would follow him and require him to be driven wherever he was going by them.
He said the additional surveillance of dissidents and rights activists this year was likely triggered by the political scandal surrounding the removal of former Chongqing ruling Chinese Communist Party chief Bo Xilai and his former right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun, whose Feb. 6 flight to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu was the first public sign of conflict among China's ruling elite.
"This is probably fairly sensitive [compared with last year], and they are afraid they won't be able to control things," Sun said. "There is June 4, then the 18th Party Congress, then there was the Chen Guangcheng incident, and Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai in Chongqing."
"All of this is happening at the same time, so they feel very nervous," he added.
Meanwhile, security was tight in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, according to a resident of the regional capital Urumqi, identified only by his surname Zhang.
"Lately they have been preparing for the Eurasia Expo, and they have stepped up security measures," Zhang said. "They have built a lot of new security guard stations, and they have been hiring a lot more community police and citizen patrols."
In its annual report, Amnesty International said China had unleashed one of its harshest crackdowns on political and human rights activists, fearful of a protest movement inspired by events in the Middle East and North Africa.
"Harassment, intimidation, arbitrary and illegal detention, and enforced disappearances intensified against government critics," the group said in a statement on Thursday, when the report was published.
It said ethnic minority regions were under heightened security as local residents protested against discrimination, repression, and other violations of their rights, while Beijing had increased ongoing efforts to bring all religious practice within the control of the state, meting out harsh persecution to some religious practitioners.
It concluded: "China’s economic strength during the global financial crisis increased the country’s leverage in the domain of global human rights, mostly for the worse."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.