Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have detained and questioned 14 activists who traveled there from across China to investigate the death in police custody of Xue Fushun, the father of prominent Shandong activist Xue Mingkai.
Xue Fushun's wife Wang Shuqing, who has publicly criticized the official verdict of "suicide" after her husband's body was found at the foot of a tall building, is currently being detained by police at constantly changing locations, and is cut off from contact with the outside world.
The family has said that Xue Fushun died last week under suspicious circumstances and the activists had converged in Shandong to investigate the matter
Woken suddenly by a night raid on their hotel rooms late Monday and in the early hours of Tuesday morning, activists scuffled and argued with police from Shandong's Qufu city, who burst into their rooms to detain them.
"In a certain guesthouse in Qufu, a large group of police burst into their rooms in the middle of the night under the pretense of an identity card check," Anhui-based activist Qian Jin, part of a second group en route to Qufu, told RFA's Mandarin Service.
"When we called them, we heard people saying things like 'don't snatch my cell phone.'"
Qian said police had refused to allow the activists to make any calls.
"Calls in progress were suddenly cut off," he said. "Now they are locked up in the Xiguan police station."
Repeated calls to the Xiguan police station rang unanswered early Tuesday morning.
Police raid guesthouse
Fellow activist Jia Pin was staying in the guesthouse at the time of the raid.
"At first I thought it was just an identity check, but then, five minutes later, after I went upstairs, there was a loud banging on the door of our room, and sounds of a lot of footsteps in the corridor," Jia said.
"It was the police."
After the raid, a second group of activists en route to Qufu split up on entering the city in a bid to evade detection, Jia said.
"Today, it looks as if about 20 people will arrive, bit by bit," he added.
A total of 14 people were detained in the police station before being taken to the railway station under escort and put on trains to their hometowns, activists said.
"I was the last to leave," Li Xiangyang, a rights activist from Shandong's Linyi city, said in an interview in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
"A police station minibus took me and my wife to Pingyi county [near Linyi], dropped us in the county town, and then left," Li said.
Attempts to enter city
However, one activist, Wei Xiaobing, said that many of those put on trains had elected to get off at local stations just outside Qufu and attempt once more to get back into the city.
"The next step is that we will move separately," Wei said.
Activists who tried to locate and free Xue Fushun's wife Wang Shuqing last Saturday were detained by police from Shandong and Beijing in a combined operation, and their whereabouts are currently unknown, fellow campaigners told RFA.
She has repeatedly warned her son not to try to return to Shandong.
'No plans to return'
Wang's son, Xue Mingkai, 24, is currently in hiding, Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said on Tuesday after a meeting with the dissident at a secret location on Sunday.
"He has no plans to return to Qufu for the time being," Jiang said. "The fact that they have taken the hard line of arresting his mother shows that you can't reason with them."
He said the situation was similar to that of blind Shandong rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who was held under house arrest along with his wife and young daughter for more than 18 months before escaping in May 2012.
"It's the same attitude as when they arrested Chen Guangcheng, Chen's mother, and his wife Yuan Weijing," Jiang said.
"If Xue Mingkai were to go back now, he'd be 'disappeared.' He is safe now, or he was safe yesterday," he added.
Xue Fushun was found dead on Jan. 29 after falling from the Qufu Municipal Procuratorate building, which houses the city's state prosecution service.
Police had detained Xue Fushun and his wife earlier in the week, and the elderly couple were beaten by police inside the procuratorate building after they escaped detention briefly and tried to hide there.
Xue Mingkai told New Tang Dynasty Television shortly after his father's death that his father "had no thoughts of suicide."
The family has only been allowed a brief glance at Xue Fushun's body, while an official autopsy was carried out behind closed doors, he said in an interview last week.
In April 2011, Xue Mingkai was formally arrested on charges of incitement to subvert state power and was later jailed until September 2013 on the same charges.
Xue's arrest came after he and fellow activist Wei Shuishan travelled to Zhejiang's Zhaiqiao village to carry out an investigation into the death of elected village chief Qian Yunhui.
Zhejiang authorities sentenced a truck driver to three-and-a-half years in prison after he ran over Qian with his truck, but ruled the popular land rights activist's death an accident.
Xue had already served 18 months in prison between May 2009 and November 2010 for "subversion of state power" after he tried to set up a Workers' Democratic Party for migrant workers in Shenzhen, and then later joined the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP).
Wang Shuqing served a one-year sentence of "re-education through labor" after she tried to appeal his earlier sentence, and was "disappeared" for an unknown period after his second arrest.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.