Chinese netizens have launched a greetings card campaign to beleaguered dissidents in jail and under house arrest ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday next week in the hope of highlighting last year's renewed crackdown on government critics.
The campaign was launched online this week by Zhao Lianhai, a rights campaigner whose child was one of thousands sickened during the melamine-tainted milk scandal of 2008.
"Many people who have fought hard for a democratic system and social progress in China have been oppressed by the judicial system and are now in jail, or have lost their freedom," Zhao said in an interview on Tuesday.
"We respectfully refer to them as prisoners of conscience, and we are asking [people] to sent them letters and postcards with best wishes for the approach of the Spring Festival," he said, referring to the lunar new year celebrations which will usher in the Year of the Dragon.
Among the addressees on the campaigners' lists are jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who was called in for questioning by state security police on Tuesday after his home was searched and his computer confiscated.
A severe warning
Hu said after returning home that he had received a severe warning during the meeting with police, who appeared keen to curb public discussion of anything to do with jailed rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng, who is currently under house arrest, and Liu.
"A lot of it focused on my vocal support for other [dissidents]," he said.
"They want to curb me ... but they also want to suppress such discussion," Hu said, adding that he had spoken candidly about the conversation he held with police to media outlets, including RFA.
"This is the exact opposite of what they told me to do," he said. "You can tell from what they care about what sort of things put pressure on them ... and we are going to keep up ... that pressure."
Hu, who was released in June after serving a three-year jail term for "subversion," has spoken out publicly via microblogging services on behalf of many fellow activists, including Chen, AIDS activist Tian Xi and dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
Meanwhile, petitioners from around China made another attempt to visit Chen and his family, who are being held incommunicado under armed guard in their home village of Dongshigu, near Shandong's Linyi city.
A petitioner surnamed Peng from the eastern province of Jiangxi said he and a group of others were planning to attempt a visit over the holiday period, in spite of reports that the guard on Dongshigu had been stepped up in recent weeks.
"Personally, I'd like to go for Spring Festival, because the new year is when I am most concerned about Chen Guangcheng," Peng said, but added he was unsure when it would be possible.
"There are a lot of variables," he said. "Some people have been detained, and the Linyi police have been mobilized [to stop people going]."
Unidentified security personnel hired by authorities in Chen's home village of Dongshigu have beaten, detained, and robbed activists who have tried to visit Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing, and the couple's young daughter Chen Kesi in repeated attempts over the past year, netizens said.
Some groups trying to visit Chen even reported being chased by men with guns.
Last month, Hollywood actor Christian Bale was shoved and chased away by unidentified guards in the latest high-profile attempt to visit Chen. Bale, in China for the premiere of the film "The Flowers of War," got away unharmed following a car chase.
Chinese activists have made more than 100 attempts to visit Chen, who has been placed under house arrest with his family since ending four years in prison in September 2010.
Just over a year after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, activists, journalists, and ethnic and religious minorities are facing a harsher political climate than before in China.
Human rights took a hard knock as Beijing boosted arrests and sentencing amid ethnic tension and in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.
Last month, China said Gao would serve the next three years in prison in spite of the expiry of his suspended jail term, raising the ire of rights groups which see his case as a leading example of abuse of Chinese dissidents.
China has also notched up controls over state-controlled media in the wake of recent online calls for a "Jasmine" revolution, inspired by the recent Middle East uprisings, although some major news organizations are pushing back against a growing wave of directives from the top.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.