Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained thousands of petitioners who converged on Beijing to mark Human Rights Day 2012 on Monday, petitioners said.
Petitioners—many of whom have spent futile years pursuing grievances through China's official complaints system-—gathered in a number of locations across the city on Monday, chanting slogans, including "Give us back our rights!"
"There were so many buses today, 50 or more; we were all packed in," said Zhao Guoli, a petitioner from the southern city of Shenzhen.
"There were two buses in front of us that had more than 100 people crammed into them."
Zhao said that many of those rounded up in the capital by police were taken to an unofficial detention center at Jiujingzhuang, on the outskirts of Beijing.
"We had to line up [for a long time] and now we are registering," she said. "They gave out some steamed buns."
Lin Minghao, a petitioner from the northeastern city of Shenyang, said he had arrived at Jiujingzhuang in the afternoon and had received a text message saying "the police are beating people."
Lin said he estimated that at least 5,000 people were being held in Jiujingzhuang on Monday night, judging from his count of the buses and the number of people aboard each bus.
"I reckon there were about 60 buses that arrived [at Jiujingzhuang today]. Each bus has more than 50 seats, and there were many more people standing, so that's probably 80-90 per bus," Lin said.
He said the petitioners were being held in overcrowded rooms and denied access to food or water.
"There were more than 10 of us locked up in one room and we hadn't eaten lunch," he said.
"I shouted that I wanted a drink of water; I shouted for several hours, but no one took any notice of me."
He said local officials from his hometown had come to pick him up.
"I'll either be detained [back home], or sent to a study group, or sent to labor camp," Lin said. "It's totally inhuman."
'Redress for injustice'
A Hubei-based petitioner surnamed Yuan said she had been treated illegally, even on Human Rights Day.
"There are a lot of us locked up here who came from all across China seeking redress for injustice," she said. "This has been going on for more than a decade."
"The petitioners have been locked up, or had their houses demolished, while others are the victims of miscarriages of justice," Yuan said.
"We braved all sorts of hardship to make it to Beijing, but we were oppressed here as well, because the government doesn't care about us."
"We have no other options."
The Sichuan-based rights website Tianwang said that petitioners from all over China had converged on the area around Beijing's southern railway station in the district of Fengtai to mark Human Rights Day.
Lin said there was a strong police presence at Liangmaqiao, not far from the embassy district and the United Nations.
"At about 11.00 a.m., we arrived to complain [to the U.N.] about the lawless behavior of our local government, which arbitrarily locks people up, and illegally detains and 're-educates' petitioners," he said.
"This goes against the International Declaration of Human Rights and the international covenants on human rights, as well as the Chinese Constitution and relevant laws and regulations," Lin added.
"We are calling on the new generation of Chinese leaders to respond to the legitimate demands of petitioners."
Road blocked off
Photos supplied by petitioners showed police and judicial enforcement vehicles lining both sides of the Liangmaqiao intersection, with large numbers of uniformed police on patrol, while some parts of the road had been sealed off.
Petitioner Yi Xu'an, who has already served time in labor camp for his petitioning activities, said he had seen a group of 50-60 petitioners near the embassy district, chanting "Give us back our rights."
"They were surrounded by police," Yi said. "I was standing right there."
"There were more than 100 police vehicles, judicial vehicles, and prosecutor vehicles, many of them with license plates from all across China," he said.
"There were also cars [with no license plates at all]."
A third petitioner, who gave only his surname Liu, said the police presence was equally strong on the other side of the diplomatic district, near the third ring road.
"There were a bunch of police officers who had blocked off the pedestrian footbridge," he said. "They were asking people crossing it if they were petitioning, and if they answered yes, they would be stopped immediately."
Elsewhere in Beijing, prominent rights activists said they were currently being held under house arrest in the wake of a recent interview given by Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since her jailed dissident husband Liu Xiaobo was announced as a Nobel peace laureate in October 2010.
'A sensitive date'
Hu Jia, a rights campaigner and close friend of the Lius, said he is currently unable to leave his Beijing apartment.
"Firstly, it probably has to do with [the Liu Xia] incident," Hu said, referring to a brief interview obtained by the Associated Press last week while Liu's guards were on their lunch break.
"Secondly, Human Rights Day is a sensitive date for the Chinese Communist Party," he said.
"A lot of petitioners come to Beijing on this day, and if they let me go out, I would definitely be down there on the front line, at the southern railway station or the national complaints office."
"Thirdly, it is the second anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, and the authorities don't want me going out and meeting up with foreign journalists," Hu said.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.