Chinese authorities have banned the sale of knives in Beijing, sent rights activists to labor camp and forced lawyers and dissidents to leave their homes in a nationwide clampdown ahead of the 18th ruling Chinese Communist Party Congress, activists and rights groups said on Wednesday.
An employee who answered the phone at a branch of the hypermarket chain Carrefour in the eastern Beijing district of Chaoyang said retailers had been ordered not to sell any knives or knife-like objects ahead of the meeting scheduled for Nov. 8.
"They are clamping down very strictly on sales of knives, because the 18th Party Congress is about to start," the employee said. "Our store took all of the knives off the shelves about two or three days ago now."
"They won't let us sell them," he said, adding that other large retailers had received similar orders.
Beijing taxis had also had all of the handles controlling rear passenger windows removed, according to a resident surnamed Feng.
"They have taken the handles off, and you can't lower the window at all now," Feng said. "It's because people have thrown petitions out of cab windows in the past, as they were driving through Tiananmen Square."
"I think it's to stop that sort of thing from happening," he said. "There is now a police officer riding shotgun on every bus that goes past Tiananmen Square."
Zhu Ruifeng, editor-in-chief of the anti-corruption website Supervision by the People, said such measures weren't suited to a modern society.
"These measures are illegal, and they're a lot like what they used to do in the time of the Qin Emperor (246-210 BC)," Zhu said. "They would confiscate people's pots and chopping knives back then [for fear of assassins]."
The government has also recruited more than a million volunteers to help with the massive "stability" operation in the Chinese capital ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, official media reported.
Zhu said many of the volunteers were retired people and unemployed youths. "They just patrol the streets in red armbands, watching people," he said. "They are being used for surveillance, in the same way they were for the [2008 Beijing] Olympics."
The 300-strong Central Committee of China's ruling Communist Party will start its last meeting in the current 17th Party Congress on Thursday, to make way for the new generation of leaders who will be announced at the 18th Congress a few days later.
Many dissidents and rights lawyers have already been forced to leave the capital, while activists elsewhere in China have been handed sentences in labor camp, or are being held under "criminal detention" for the duration of the congress, activists said.
Beijing-based rights activist Wang Lihong said she had been informed that she must leave Beijing during the Congress, and go "on holiday."
"I will probably have left Beijing in a couple of days," Wang said on Wednesday. "Of course they have required that I go...probably to [the southern island province of] Hainan."
"They didn't say [when I could return] but it's sure to be after the congress is over," she said. "I guess Beijing will be supposedly safer after they have got rid of all the troublemakers."
Beijing-based pro-democracy activist Zha Jianguo said he had also been ordered to leave the capital, while the rights website Weiquan Wang said AIDS activist Hu Jia, public interest lawyers Xu Zhiyong, Li Xiongbin and Li Fangping, along with pro-democracy activists Zhang Zuhua, He Depu and Xu Yonghai had already left, or were about to leave, on police orders.
All had been ordered to stay away until the congress was over, it said.
Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, who was ordered back to his ancestral hometown in the eastern province of Jiangxi, said he thought the new controls were "ridiculous."
"Are all these people really a danger to a single Party meeting?" he said. "They are afraid we will cause trouble and endanger social stability."
Elsewhere in China, Shanghai petitioner Dong Guoqing was sentenced to a year's "re-education through labor."
Dong's wife, Zhang Fangxian said her husband had been handed the sentence after being held for a month under criminal detention.
"They said he was disturbing social order," said Zhang, who received notification of the sentenced on Saturday. "They said it was for one year."
And Sichuan-based rights activist Chen Yunfei said he had been held in a police station for five hours on Tuesday and warned by police not to leave the provincial capital, Chengdu.
"They said it was because of the 18th Party Congress," Chen said on Wednesday. "They told me not to say anything too sensitive, and not to leave Chengdu."
"I told them I wasn't going to [inform them if I did] and they started cursing me out, and they would have beaten me up, but the police station chief stopped them," he said.
China's censors have also kept a stranglehold on the media ahead of the congress, according to the New York-based Committee For the Protection of Journalists (CPJ).
"Information security is notoriously tight before the five-yearly congress, which is expected to usher in high-level leadership change in 2012," the group said in a statement on its website.
It cited the blocking of the New York Times' English- and Chinese-language websites on Friday after the newspaper published an in-depth report on the financial assets held by premier Wen Jiabao's family, which Beijing later denied.
"Reporting on political leaders—especially anything revealing they have profited from their status—is heavily controlled in China's domestic media," the group said.
It said men in plainclothes had obstructed a Sky News TV crew reporting on environmental protests in the eastern city of Ningbo on Monday, pushing, dragging and kicking them.
Police also briefly detained an Agence France-Presse journalist at the scene of the protests, but did not identify the journalist by name, the CPJ said.
"It is a bad sign for China if the Communist Party introduces new leaders in a wave of censorship and anti-press aggression," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.