Authorities in the central province of Hubei have detained two political activists who collected signatures online in support of Premier Wen Jiabao's recent call for political reforms, rights groups said.
Liu Feiyue, head of the Hubei-based rights group China Rights Observer, said Hunan rights activist Xu Guangli and Yin Weihe were detained by police last week at Yin's home, which was later searched by around 15 police, including some officers from the state security police.
Liu said their detention was linked to their recent garnering of online support for political reform, triggered by comments in March by outgoing premier Wen Jiabao.
"It was because they organized some [online] activities in support of Wen Jiabao's reforms," Liu said. "Between 1,000 and 2,000 people signed."
"Right now, they are still being held in a detention center, but there have been no formal proceedings from the police," he said.
"They haven't had a formal notification from the police, and they haven't had time to find a lawyer yet."
Calls to the listed number for local police department did not successfully connect on Tuesday.
String of arrests
The Hunan detentions are the latest in a string of arrests nationwide of political activists who have voiced public support for Wen's call for political reform.
Speaking at his last press conference at the end of the 10-day parliamentary sessions in Beijing, Wen warned that China could face a return to the revolutionary turmoil of the Cultural Revolution in the absence of further political reform.
While he gave no concrete details of the political reforms he referred to, Wen, 69, who with China's president Hu Jintao is due to hand over power to the next generation of Chinese leaders later this year, said he was "seized by a strong sense of responsibility" to speak out.
Citing widespread official corruption, a widening gap between rich and poor, and weak public trust in the government, Wen warned of the "judgment of history," which would be visited on a government that fails to take steps in the right direction.
Last month, police in Guangzhou criminally detained 22-year-old Huang Wenxun on suspicion of “illegal assembly” for his participation in a peaceful march on March 31.
Huang was detained a day after he marched with around 10 other people, holding up signs in Guangzhou’s city center, calling on officials to disclose their assets and to support Premier Wen Jiabao’s call for political reform.
Fellow demonstrators Xiao Yong and Ou Ronggui were also criminally detained and denied visits from lawyers appointed by their relatives. The three were released earlier this week.
Guangzhou police also released three activists from Changsha who were detained after traveling to the city with the intention of handing out leaflets calling for political reforms earlier this week, the three said in an interview with RFA's Cantonese service.
"They made us sign a guarantee promising that we wouldn't ever come back to Guangzhou again," said Tang Haiding, who was detained and released alongside fellow Changsha activists Wang Xilin and Zhang Shengyu.
The three were held for more than 10 hours at a police station in Panyu, a suburb of Guangzhou, and questioned about their intentions in Guangzhou, Tang said.
"We all thought this was ridiculous, because Guangzhou is part of mainland China, and we are all Chinese citizens," he said. "Why can't we go to Guangzhou; it's totally unreasonable."
He said they were intercepted on their arrival in the city by police, including state security police, and stopped as they were getting off a bus.
"They pushed us very rudely into the [police] car," Tang said. "Zhang Shengyu was shouting the whole time, protesting against police brutality."
Wang said the trio had simply sought to exercise their right to freedom of speech under Article 35 of China's Constitution.
"As citizens, we have the right to freedom of expression," he said. "That right cannot be taken away by their use of violence."
An officer who answered the phone at the Shibi police station in Panyu declined to comment.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.