Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have detained an activist who uploaded a photo of himself ripping up a copy of Chairman Mao's portrait, as security continues to tighten around the country ahead of a crucial leadership transition.
AIDS activist Cao Xiaodong, who uploaded photos of himself and fellow activists ripping up pictures of late supreme leader Mao Zedong on Oct. 25, was taken away by police officers on Thursday evening, according to an eyewitness.
"After the police arrived, they said they were carrying out widespread checks, and Cao Xiaodong had to show his ID card," said a woman identified only by her surname Wang.
"Then the police told Cao Xiaodong he would have to go down to the police station with them, and they said that only men could go with him, and that he would have to have a blood test," she said.
"After that I saw Cao Xiaodong getting into an unmarked car that wasn't a police car. It took him away."
She said Cao had sent a text message to say he was being held in the Jingba Road police station.
An officer who answered the phone at the station declined to comment, saying it was impossible to verify the RFA journalist's identity.
The photo of Cao and his friends, Lin Qilei, Ji Laisong, and Wen Dao, ripping the pictures in half went viral on China's popular microblogging services, and users of Sina's Twitter-like services quickly identified them.
The photo sparked a flood of similar photos in solidarity, and the word "tearing" is now being used as a pun for "18th Party Congress" in Chinese.
Netizens have now launched a campaign to call police officers linked to Cao, to put pressure on the authorities to release him.
China has launched a nationwide security clampdown, confining many rights activists to their homes and sending others to jail or labor camp ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition to be announced at the 18th Congress of the ruling Communist Party on Nov. 8.
In the eastern province of Shandong, the elected head of Shikuanglan village near Yantai city was being held along with his two brothers in a hotel and hospital, a Hubei-based rights group said.
Zhang Yuxi, 54, whose phone was switched off for much of Friday, said by recorded voice mail message that he had been locked up.
"This is Zhang Yuxi," the message said. "I am being locked up in Sanshandao near Laizhou because of the 18th Party Congress."
An official in the local government said he didn't know Zhang's whereabouts. "I don't know, I'm sorry," he said.
And in the southwestern province of Sichuan, rights activist Liu Zhengyou was taken away from his home by police on Thursday, according to an associate.
"Zhengyou has been placed in a study class by the police," said Liu's friend, surnamed Chen.
"We went to a number of police stations to ask about him, and couldn't find him, and the police said they didn't know anything."
"Zhengyou's phone has been turned off, and we don't know what treatment he is receiving, so we are very worried about him," she said, adding that Liu's family home was now under 24-hour surveillance by police.
Also in Sichuan, rights activist Li Yu was forcibly returned to the town of his registration from the provincial capital Chengdu, and placed under house arrest.
"They won't let me leave," Li said by telephone on Friday. "The police warned me that, because of [evidence] they had, they could put me in jail any time they liked."
"The Communist Party is getting serious about maintaining stability, and they are stopping at nothing to achieve that," he said.
Meanwhile, authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong refused permission to a group of retired officials to set up a group to defend their rights, organizers said.
Retired official and long-term petitioner Tao Changshi tried to set up the Rende Mutual Help Society in Guangdong's Mei county to pursue allegations of official corruption, but his request was recently turned down, Tao said on Friday.
"This organization would involve rights defense work, lawyers, some religious issues, and charitable volunteers," Tao said. "This is very sensitive, and they told me that they didn't dare, and wouldn't, approve the application."
Tao said the group was set up as a mutual support group for the petitioners of Mei county, who have been trying to win redress for the death of a woman 15 years ago who blew the whistle on corruption at the local branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank (ICB).
He said the group had made the application initially as the "Rende Rights Protection Charity" in July, but had been warned to change the group's name.
"The official suggested that we delete the words 'rights protection' and add an extra three names to the application," Tao said, adding that the group had taken the advice, but still to no avail.
He said the refusal had come in spite of regulations issued in November 2011 easing restrictions on civil groups that didn't fall into the education, training, health, and museum sectors.
"If there are other requirements, why can't they put them online?" Tao said. "Why do they say one thing, and do another?"
An official who answered the phone at the Guangzhou municipal civil affairs bureau declined to comment.
"This is the front desk," she said. "We don't know what goes on internally."
Reported by Lin Jing and Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.