Chinese authorities are tightening controls on rights activists and lawyers ahead of the 18th Party Congress next month, Shanghai-based activists said.
Longtime Shanghai petitioners Wang Kouma and Tong Guojing were taken away on Tuesday morning under criminal detention by plainclothes police on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place," Wang's wife said on Wednesday.
"To begin with, the police just issued a summons, when Wang Kouma requested it from them," she said. "Later, the police also brought a notice of criminal detention."
"The municipal police came round at about 9:00 a.m. and summoned Wang Kouma, who said he wasn't leaving without any formal documentation," she said. "Then they brought round a notice of detention, and took him away."
"I heard one of the policemen say he'd be detained for 30 days, but they didn't give me the detention notice."
Tong was detained at around the same time by seven Shanghai municipal police officers "for a chat," Tong's wife said.
"Two regular police and five in plainclothes," she said. "They said the the leaders of our residential district wanted to talk to him...and so he went with them."
"He didn't come back, and...at around 11:00 a.m. they brought the detention notice.... It didn't say how many days he'd be detained for."
She said the notice had been issued by the city's Zhabei district, for "disturbing order in a public place."
Shanghai-based petitioner Cai Wenjun said the government had stepped up action against China's petitioners, ordinary people who pursue complaints about the government through official channels, often for years at a time, ahead of the 18th Party Congress later this year.
"I think this has to do with the 18th Party Congress," Cai said. "I think the government regards [Wang and Tong] as leaders of the petitioners."
"On Sept. 12, more than 100 petitioners signed an application form with the police to stage a demonstration," she added. "Tong Guojing was one of the three representatives named [on the application]."
Cai said the authorities were "intensely nervous" in the run-up to the Congress, which will see a crucial, once-in-a-decade leadership transition in the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"They have begun their crackdown ahead of the big meeting," she said. "I heard they had had orders from higher up ... to lie in wait for petitioners and throw them straight in black jails, or to put them under criminal detention."
"They are using the 'big tickets,' as the police call it," Cai added. "'Big tickets' means criminal detention, re-education through labor, and jail sentences."
Meanwhile, police in the eastern province of Jiangxi held and beat two activists who also submitted an application to hold a rally, according to an overseas rights group.
The China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an e-mailed statement that the authorities were "likely acting in retaliation" after the activists posted allegations that plainclothes police had participated in anti-Japan rallies that have swept China in recent days.
Activists Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were detained and physically abused after they turned in an application to police in Xinyi city on Sept. 19, CHRD said.
"Liu and Wei were then subjected to brutal abuse and illegal treatment for more than 11 hours, including having their personal data recorded as if they were criminal suspects," the group said.
"In Liu’s case, she was strip-searched, beaten, kicked, and verbally abused."
Liu and Wei had both previously been prevented from running as independent candidates in 2011 elections to the local People’s Congress elections.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.