Nine people who "disappeared" in a police operation targeting rights activists in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are still being held in an unknown location as their families prepared to welcome the Year of the Rooster without them.
Police in Guangdong's Shenzhen city detained rights activists Deng Hongcheng, Xiao Bing, Wang Wei, Huo Yan, and Shen Li after they made plans to meet up in the city's Longgang district on Nov. 14 for dinner.
The following day, friends and relatives Ding Yan, Wang Jun, Huang Anyang, Li Nanhai, Wang Jianhua, and Deng Jianfeng also went missing after they inquired with police after their whereabouts.
While the authorities have since confirmed that they are holding Deng Lihong and Wang Jun, and have released Deng Jianfeng, the rest are still unaccounted for, relatives told RFA on Friday.
Deng and Wang are being held on suspicion of "subversion of state power."
Wang Jun's wife Yan Junjun said she had visited the police station in search of the state security police officers in charge of his case on Wednesday, but was turned away.
"They refused to admit that that was the headquarters of the state security police," Yan said. "Then they said they wouldn't accept any of our paperwork [applying for Wang to meet with lawyers]."
"Nobody came out to give us an update on Wang Jun's situation," she said. "We totally failed to achieve what we went to achieve."
She said other families are already reuniting ahead of the New Year festivities which start on Friday evening and continue through the weekend.
"I am extremely worried," she said.
'We know nothing'
Wang Jianhua's wife, who gave only her surname Li, said she recently traveled from the couple's home in Henan to try to find him in Shenzhen, after losing all contact with him for more than two months, but to no avail.
She has since returned to Henan, and said the family has yet to receive any notification of her husband's whereabouts from the authorities.
"There has been nothing, and we know nothing," Li said. "We haven't had any formal documents through."
"I am taking care of the kids by myself, and I have to go to work, so this is going to get really tough after New Year," she said.
Meanwhile, Li Nanhai's father told RFA that his lawyer had tried to establish his whereabouts with the Shenzhen police department earlier this week, but had met with stonewalling from officials.
"The whole family depends on him to live," the elder Li said. "Not only do we have no savings, he had lent out all of our money on loan schemes."
Repeated calls to the Shenzhen municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
"Subversion of state power" carries a minimum jail term of 10 years in cases where the person is judged to have played a leading role, or where the consequences are deemed especially harmful.
Jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is currently serving a 13-year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power."
Meanwhile, petitioners pursuing long-running complaints against official wrongdoing in Beijing said they are unlikely to enjoy the traditional New Year's Eve meal along with the rest of the nation on Friday.
Large crowds form
A petitioner surnamed Yuan said there were still large crowds outside the State Council complaints department in Beijing on Friday, the last business day before the holiday begins.
"There were quite a lot of petitioners there [today], the same as normal," Yuan said. "There were also large numbers of interceptors, officials sent by local governments to persecute them."
"They don't want petitioners to come to Beijing ... but they still come, even on New Year's Eve," she said, adding that some of her fellow petitioners had already been taken to the Majialou unofficial detention center on the outskirts of Beijing, however.
Yuan said many petitioners, many of whom are complaining about forced evictions, wrongful detention or corruption linked to land deals, have scant hope of scoring a New Year feast, however.
"A lot of them are living way out beyond the fifth ring-road, and they only get one meal a day as it is," she said.
"They don't even have running water or heating, so they will have a hard time over New Year."
Beijing resident Tang Xinbo said many petitioners get by by picking up leftover meat and vegetables from piles of food waste.
"There's even an infant there who can barely say 'Daddy' who is picking through the trash for food to eat," Tang said.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.