Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou clamped down on rights activists and lawyers attending a dinner gathering over the New Year holiday, activists said Tuesday.
A number of activists who arranged online to meet for dinner on New Year's Eve were prevented by police, according to Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling.
"We had a dinner for people from all walks of life across the Pearl River Delta last night, to do away with the old and to bring in the new," Tang said on Tuesday.
Tang said the dinner was raided soon after he sat down to eat in a Guangzhou restaurant with fellow rights lawyers Guo Feixiong and Teng Biao.
He said activists from further afield, including Li Yuanfeng from the northwestern city of Lanzhou and Zhao Haitong from the western region of Xinjiang, had managed to show up at the restaurant.
"We...had barely sat down, and they hadn't even brought the tea, when the state security police came bursting in, bringing a whole bunch of plainclothes police with them," he said.
Tang said he was detained, along with Li and Zhao.
"[Zhao] sent me a text message to say that he had been forcibly put aboard a train back to Lanzhou," he said.
Guangzhou lawyer Sui Muqing said the gathering was dispersed by police for being "an illegal gathering."
"According to the relevant laws and regulations, illegal gatherings refer to large meetings, demonstrations and marches that haven't obtained the correct permission beforehand," he said.
"They were very polite, but I can tell you very clearly that there is no basis in law at all for this," Sui said. "This is a case of limiting the freedom of citizens and violating their civil rights."
Meanwhile, activist Li Biyun from Guangdong's Foshan city said she had jumped over a wall to get away from police watching her home in order to attend.
"I walked for several hours to get away, because there were several people watching the door of my home," Li said. "They follow me around everywhere, every day."
"I left my home at about 1.00 p.m. and I didn't reach Huanghuagang until about 7.00 p.m.," she added.
Tang said he was taken to a nearby police station and photographed like a criminal suspect. "They took mugshots and fingerprints," he said. "It took forever, and they didn't let me out till about 10.00 p.m."
Others who arrived later found another restaurant to eat at, Tang said.
He said Li had been unable to meet up with the others because she was being tailed by an unidentified man soon after calling them to find out the location of the dinner.
"She wasted a lot of energy in escaping in the first place," he added.
"But eventually around 30 people did manage to eat together, and there would have been more than 40 of us if some of us hadn't been stopped by special agents."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.