Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong on Thursday detained a group of rights campaigners who tried to visit blind activist Chen Guangcheng, as prominent dissidents spoke out in their support.
The group set off on Wednesday from the eastern city of Xuzhou in an attempt to visit Chen, who has been held with his wife and small daughter at the family home in Shandong's Yinan county for more than a year since his release from prison.
According to fellow activist Wang Xuezhen, police banged on the door of activist and Buddhist nun Miao Jue's Xuzhou hotel room at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday.
"She wouldn't open it, and then they said they'd break it down if she didn't, so she eventually opened it," said Wang. "They wanted to take her away but she wouldn't go, because everyone's stuff was there."
"Then they wrenched her phone away from her, while she was talking to [fellow activist] 'Wuti' and took her away."
Miao was taken to Nanjing airport by four Linyi municipal state security police and four state security police from the southern city of Guangzhou, her hometown, Wang added.
They then put her on a flight to Guangdong.
Wang said the rest of the group had been detained at the Linyi municipal long-distance bus-station.
The group of activists who tried to visit Chen numbered at least nine, with one more person reported to have joined them in his home village of Dongshigu.
Led by Henan-based activist Liu Shasha, many of them went incommunicado on Wednesday, with some reporting being chased through cornfields by men with guns.
Microblog posts online also reported that some activists had gunshots fired in their direction.
Supporters speak out
Chen's plight has prompted increasingly prominent figures to speak out publicly, including Yu Jianrong, who began an online scheme to rescue children used for begging, and Beijing-based AIDS activist Hu Jia, who was recently released from a three-year jail term for subversion.
Yu said on his Sina Weibo microblogging account on Thursday that he had been contacted by the authorities and warned against getting involved in the campaign.
"They tell me that there is an international background to the campaign to support Chen," Yu wrote on his verified Weibo account. "They told me not to take part."
"My response was very simple. He is a blind man, and you are not only breaking the law of the land, you are breaking moral law, in constraining him like this!"
Hu told RFA on Thursday he was concerned for the activists trying to support Chen, and confirmed that Miao Jue had flown back to Guangzhou.
"She called me and send a text message," Hu said. "She said the state security police from her registered hometown of Zijin, near Heyuan in Guangdong province, had taken her back there."
"She took a 4:00 p.m. flight," he said.
Hu said the authorities had imprisoned Chen in 2006 on trumped-up charges.
"We have been calling ever since for his release," Hu said. "Now he is being held in a black [unofficial] jail even though his formal jail term has ended and he has returned home," Hu said.
"But in the case of case of Chen, we don't just see his fortitude, but also those of many, many other volunteers. These netizens ... are very courageous," he said.
Accused of drug dealing
Wuhan-based veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin said he had spoken to one of the activists, Liu Yong, on Thursday.
"Some special police from Linyi city detained them and said they were suspected of drug dealing, and made them go back to the police station for a urine test," Qin said.
"Liu Yong is from Gaomi city in Shandong, and some police came from Gaomi and took him back with them," he said.
"Altogether, they held him in illegal detention for 19 hours."
Chen, 38, a self-taught lawyer who has persistently campaigned for the rights of ordinary people under China's draconian family-planning regime, was jailed for four years and three months for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” by the Linyi municipal court in August 2006.
Chen had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s “One Child” policy, as well as official harassment and attacks on families who exceeded local birth quotas.
He served the full jail term in spite of repeated requests for medical parole.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.