Authorities in the Chinese capital on Monday detained hundreds of petitioners as the visiting new United Nations chief urged better protection for human rights around the world.
Police and security guards beat up some petitioners after hundreds of people with complaints and grievances against the ruling Chinese Communist Party gathered outside the national-level police complaints department in Beijing, eyewitnesses said.
"There were so many police there, about 1,000, with maybe 400 interceptors," Sichuan petitioner Yuan Ying told RFA, referring to security personnel hired by regional governments to escort petitioners home, often to face further harassment, violence, or detention in "black jails."
"They were all standing over by the alley leading to the Dongtangzi Church and around there," Yuan said. "The petitioners were being locked up and kidnapped for complaining about the government."
"Some interceptors snatched away one petitioner from right under the noses of the police," she said.
As the detentions and beatings took place, U.N. secretary general-elect Antonio Guterres warned of a weakening human rights regime around the world during a visit to Beijing.
Speaking amid widespread criticism of China's participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council, Guterres called on the United Nations to abide by its principles.
"In a world where so many rights are not respected, [we must] make sure that there is an effective combination in human rights, of civil and political rights and the economic and social rights in a balanced way," Guterres said.
Out on the streets, Gansu petitioner Qiao Hua reported similar crowds outside the State Council's land bureau, where some 200 petitioners had gathered, and outside the Ministry of Public Security.
"Things were very bad here on the ground today," Qiao said. "When I went to swipe my ID card at the ministry of public security, the interceptors were out in force, watching everybody."
"There were lots of security guards on duty inside as well."
The Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website said that the majority of people who complain to the ministry are those seeking redress for unlawful detentions and kidnappings at the hands of the police.
Death in custody
Some of the complaints were linked to the death in custody of 68-year-old petitioner Yang Tianzhi, as he was being escorted home by interceptors from his hometown, it reported.
Yang's mutilated, headless body was found at the side of a road in Sichuan's Yuechi county town on Aug. 17. Police detained nine suspects at the time, but there have been no developments on the case since, activists said.
Government officials declined to comment on the case when contacted by RFA.
Last week, rights activists unfurled a banner protesting the death in custody of Chen Shenqun, a rights activist from the northeastern province of Liaoning who spoke out about abuses she suffered inside the notorious police-run Masanjia labor camp.
Chen had been detained while petitioning in Beijing and held at the Majialou detention center on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, before being escorted home by police from her home district of Sujiatun in the provincial capital Liaoyang on Nov. 20.
Police said she died in a "car accident" but refused to allow relatives to see her body before cremation, prompting widespread suspicion she had been murdered.
Petitioners said they are planning a memorial event on Saturday for Chen, whom they described as a "good sister" and a "friend through adversity."
Fight for pensions
A former substitute teacher-turned-petitioner surnamed Cao told RFA that some 7,000 people from Liaoning are currently battling for their pensions after being hired on "temporary" contracts to carry out full teaching responsibilities for many years.
"We have come to Beijing to fight for our rights and to demand that they grant us both our professional status and our pensions and healthcare benefits," Cao said.
Teachers in China can be hired on civil service or non-civil service contracts, and those on the latter frequently complain of wages that are below a minimum living standard and often go unpaid for months.
Directive No. 32, issued by the central authorities in 1997, ordered local governments to put all teachers on civil service contracts, which carry higher wages and more benefits. But cash-strapped local authorities have dragged their feet over the new rules.
Instead, former teachers say they have been repeatedly stonewalled, detained beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
A teacher from the northern province of Hebei said police have lately begun warning the protesting teachers not to give interviews to overseas media.
"They are trying to label us by telling us not to speak to foreign media outlets," the anonymous teacher, who has been petitioning since 2004, said. "They are saying we are spies."
"They'll be the death of us through sheer frustration."
Meanwhile, authorities in the northern city of Tianjin on Monday slapped a travel ban on activist Xu Nailai after he expressed public support for the 2014 Occupy Central democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Xu, who was prevented from crossing the internal immigration border into the former British colony with his daughter, said he was also told to notify police whenever he traveled.
"I'm supposed to inform three separate departments ... of my travel plans from now on," he told RFA on Monday. "We have a lot of laws in China, and they all look very good on paper."
"But there is no fairness or justice to speak of, because the Chinese Communist Party's word is law," Xu said.
Xu said he believes the restrictions are linked to his support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy Occupy Central movement.
"I have friends in Hong Kong, and I wanted to go and visit them, to talk about China's future and about my views on democracy," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.