Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have called in a number of prominent rights activists and lawyers for questioning in recent days, confiscating a number of books about democracy and the rule of law from some of them.
The move came after local activists Xiao Yong, Tang Jingling and Jiang Dongsheng met on Saturday.
"We were going to go and eat first, then we took some books to Tang Jingling's home, because he loves to read," Xiao, who hails from Hunan province but is based in Guangzhou, said in an interview on Monday.
"Then we were taken to the Huanghuagang police station, where we were questioned for four hours," said Xiao, who works at the nongovernment pro-democracy Mr. De Research Institute.
He said police wanted to know whether Saturday's meeting had been planned in advance, and who had invited them.
"They confiscated all the books we had planned to take to Tang's house," Xiao added.
Xiao, who has carried out cutting-edge investigations into the psychiatric detention of ordinary Chinese who lodge complaints against the government, as well as campaigning on behalf of the Cantonese language, is no stranger to police attention.
He was detained for 15 days by city authorities in October 2010 for "incitement to an illegal demonstration," before being escorted back to his registered hometown in the southern province of Hunan by China's state security police.
Xiao had joined a campaign organized by netizens as a rapid response to comments by a Guangzhou lawmaker in favor of Mandarin programming instead of the local dialect of Cantonese.
Tang, a lawyer who lost his license to practice after he represented petitioners, victims of medical malpractice and tainted medicines, as well as rights activists, said the books consisted of historical accounts by ordinary people and theoretical books about democracy and the rule of law.
"All of these books were official publications of domestic Chinese publishing companies," said Tang, who is now a leading Chinese authority on nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.
"That day it was raining, and we were taking shelter from the rain in the pavilion in the Huanghuagang Park," Tang said. "At around 4.00 p.m. we saw that the rain had eased off and were about to leave ... when suddenly [the police] came running up from behind us and prevented us from leaving."
"They said they wanted to search through our things ... There were a lot of police and security guards, and even their section chief showed up later," he said. "They surrounded and searched us."
He said police also confiscated the activists' phones for the duration of their questioning. "But they wouldn't give the books back," he said.
Books openly sold
Xiao said police had told him that the books—which included The Details of Democracy by Liu Yu, and The Deep Places of History by Liu Da—were "illegal publications."
"All of them are on sale at the Xinhua bookshop and at other bookshops," he said. "They said that the books were listed as illegal publications on the website of the General Administration for Press and Publications."
An officer who answered the phone at the Huanghuagang police station declined to comment on the incident.
"I don't know the actual details," the officer said. "If you need to know something, you can come to Huanghuagang and ask."
Meanwhile, Sichuan-based rights activist Chen Yunfei was stopped at a border crossing on his way back home following a visit to Hong Kong, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) website said.
Chen subsequently arrived safely back in Chengdu, according to fellow activist Huang Xiaomin, but a number of Hong Kong-published magazines, including Kaifang and Trend, were confiscated at the border.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.