Activists in Hong Kong marched to Beijing's representative office in the territory on Friday, the latest group to join the campaign to free blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng, ahead of his 40th birthday on Saturday.
Sporting dark glasses in a show of solidarity with Chen, who has often been photographed wearing them, the activists hung banners outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government, calling for an end to Chen's year-long house arrest.
Holding banners that read "Free Chen Guangcheng on his birthday! No more surveillance!" the activists shouted slogans outside the building.
Patrick Poon, of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said the protesters also wanted to wish Chen a happy birthday.
"We feel it is very sad that Chen has been shut up in his home for more than a year since his release from prison," Poon said. "Before that, he served an unjust jail term."
"We call on the Chinese government in the strongest terms to end the house arrest of Chen Guangcheng and his family," he said.
The demonstration was organized by the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, as well as local Catholic groups and his lawyers' group, Poon said.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said the armed gangs currently surrounding Chen's home in Dongshigu village, Yinan county, are likely operating with the tacit consent of the local police.
"The treatment of Chen Guangcheng gives us a glimpse of just how serious the level of oppression is in mainland China," Lee said.
"We have come here to protest today ... and to call for the earliest possible release of Chen Guangcheng," he said.
"Happy Birthday!" he said.
Campaigners from all over China are planning to converge on Linyi city, which administers Yinan county, on Saturday in honor of his 40th birthday.
However, Nanjing-based rights activist He Peirong, known by her online nickname as @pearlher, was under tight surveillance at her home on Friday ahead of the planned action, fellow activists said.
"They brought her home [Thursday] evening," said Shandong-based rights activist Wang Xuezhen. "There were eight policeman accompanying her ... They told her not to go back to Shandong again," she said.
"She will be under detention at home until after Chen Guangcheng's birthday."
She said He had vowed to go on a hunger strike in protest at her house arrest.
"The Shandong police are now cooperating with the Nanjing police to suppress Chen Guangcheng's supporters," Wang added.
An employee who answered the phone at the Maying police station near He Peirong's home said he had no knowledge of her case, and declined to comment.
Show of solidarity
In recent days, Chinese netizens and overseas campaigners have posted portraits of themselves wearing dark glasses on their blogs and microblogs in a show of solidarity with Chen and his family.
Chen, 39, a self-taught lawyer who campaigned for the rights of rural women under China's draconian family-planning regime, was handed a four-year, three-month jail term for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” in August 2006.
Chen, Yuan, and Chen Kesi have been held in the family home and denied access to books, paper, or pens and electronic equipment, as well as being cut off from contact with the outside world.
Activists say the couple was severely beaten up earlier this year after they smuggled out a video that detailed their lives under house arrest.
Chen had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s “One Child” policy, as well as official harassment and attacks on families who exceed local birth quotas.
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.