A Jiangxi-based laid-off worker who gained the backing of more than 30 people for her nomination in district elections has been strip-searched and beaten during several weeks' detention in an unofficial detention center, or "black jail," a Hong Kong-based rights group said on Tuesday.
Liu Ping was detained at the Beijing West Railway Station on March 6 by security personnel from her former employers, the state-owned Xinyu City Steel Group, and forced to return to the eastern province of Jiangxi, the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an e-mailed statement.
"Her belongings were confiscated, and she was held temporarily in a black jail," CHRD said. "Her captors then forced Liu into a car and drove her back to Jiangxi."
The next day, Liu was blindfolded before being driven to a secret location, the group said.
"[There,] three women then strip-searched Liu, damaging her clothes so badly that she was left virtually naked and completely disheveled," the statement, adding that the guards had refused Liu food during the daytime.
"When Liu confronted them about her mistreatment, the women beat and kicked her until she fell on the ground," CHRD said.
Liu was detained in "a windowless padded room equipped with surveillance cameras and monitored daily by three women and three men working in two shifts," CHRD said, adding that Liu was tied up and returned home on March 19 after she got sick.
"At the time of writing, none of Liu’s possessions have been returned to her," the group said, adding that this was only the most recent example of harassment against the grassroots activist.
"Besides this recent horrendous incident, Liu has faced myriad forms of harassment since running as an independent candidate in her local election," CHRD said.
"Authorities installed surveillance cameras at the entrance to her home, and her family members have also been negatively affected by authorities’ retaliation against her."
Before her candidacy for district People's Congress in Xinyu city was rejected, Liu had mustered a strong following among laid-off and retired workers, as well as existing workers who complained of poor conditions in their jobs.
In her declaration to her constituents that accompanied her application for candidacy, Liu promised, if elected, to "do everything in my power to reflect the voice of ordinary people."
"I am not an official, but I am wholeheartedly for the people," she wrote in the document, which has since been circulated online by Chinese netizens. "I have fought on the front line of rights defense work for a very long time, and while my powers are limited, I have never stopped trying!"
The Chinese authorities have warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, and that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the People's Congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels will be elected during nationwide elections, held every five years, in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7, 2011 through December 2012.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.