Authorities in the Chinese capital on Friday detained a group of activists who tried to visit Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo under house arrest at her Beijing home, and beat up Hong Kong journalists who tried to follow them.
Hong Kong activist Yeung Hong, together with Henan-based activist Liu Shasha and two unnamed netizens from Beijing, got as far as the residential compound in a Beijing suburb where Liu has been held under police guard since October 2010, when the Nobel committee first announced her husband's award.
Holding a placard with the words "Liu Xia, everyone is behind you!" and shouting slogans through a megaphone, the activists were quickly detained, questioned for several hours, and then released in the early hours of Friday morning.
"We were standing down at ground level shouting, for about two minutes, until about eight security guards and plainclothes cops came rushing over and snatched away our [placard and megaphone] in a very rude manner," Yeung said.
"Then they pinned us to the ground and were about to start beating us up, when they suddenly pushed us away."
"At the exact same time they did that, a light cam on in Liu Xia's apartment, so maybe she heard something going on....I think maybe Liu Xia saw us," he said.
Three of the group were released after questioning, but Liu Shasha was handed into the custody of officials who escorted her back to her hometown in Henan, activists said via social media.
Yang and the other activists were followed to the compound by a large group of Hong Kong journalists, including film crews from Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), TVB, and nowTV, who also clashed with plainclothes police officers stationed outside.
Footage shot of the incident by nowTV showed a cameraman being grabbed by the neck and a camera falling to the ground.
An RTHK reporter and cameraman sustained injuries in the scuffle, according to Hong Kong media reports, sparking widespread protests from media associations and political parties in Hong Kong, which still enjoys greater media freedom than the rest of China.
Ronald Chiu, chairman of the Hong Kong News Executives Association, told Hong Kong media that that attack on the RTHK camera crew was unacceptable.
"They should take a more enlightened attitude during the parliamentary sessions," Chiu said, referring to the National People's Congress
(NPC) annual session, which is currently under way in the Chinese capital, sparking tight security.
"Everyone wants to know about Liu Xia's circumstances, so it is understandable that some people tried to go there to find out, and to visit her."
"These are normal reporting activities," Chiu added.
The visit came just days after an international signature campaign begun by Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling on Beijing to free both Lius was handed to Chinese officials, after being signed last year by more than 130 former Nobel laureates across all disciplines.
On Feb. 28, a petition bearing more than 450,000 signatures from 130 countries was delivered to Chinese authorities in Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Paris, New York, Taipei, and Washington DC.
Video taken of a rare visit to Liu Xia's apartment by Hu Jia and fellow activist Xu Youyu late last year showed her anxious and tearful, whispering into Xu's ear and asking the pair to leave.
Days earlier, a crying and trembling Liu Xia gave her first media interview in 26 months, speaking out for the first time about her ill-health and extreme isolation.
Liu Xia said that apart from an escorted monthly visit to see Liu Xiaobo in prison, she hasn't left the couple's apartment since October 2010.
The petition called on China's incoming president Xi Jinping to release Liu Xiaobo, who has served four years of an 11-year jail term for subversion, and to free Liu Xia from house arrest.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.