Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou detained three activists near the grave of a political dissident executed during the Mao era at the weekend after they tried to mark the 50th anniversary of her death on Sunday.
Some activists defied a police cordon around the grave of Lin Zhao to lay wreaths and flowers at the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery, as activists converged upon the area. But others were detained, questioned, and escorted away from the area.
Sunday marked the anniversary of Lin's execution for alleged counterrevolutionary crimes under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
Among those detained was pro-democracy activist Zhu Chengzhi, according to his associate Chen Yuhua.
Chen said the authorities fear that the area could be flooded with people if anyone is allowed to approach Lin's grave without restriction.
"Thousands of people would come from across China," Chen said. "They worry that too many people would go, and the thing the government fears the most is a crowd of pro-democracy activists all together in the same place."
Some activists said they had hoped to lay wreaths on Saturday instead, but police had set up at least four roadblocks in the vicinity, and were checking cars moving around in the area. Someone had also cleared away trees and undergrowth from the area near the grave, they said.
"There are police all around Lin Zhao's grave," Shanghai-based rights activist Zhu Jinan told RFA on Monday. "We put our flowers there but we weren't allowed to take photos or say anything, and they gave no reason for this ... we just bowed in respect and came back down again."
Zhu said police had also visited the activists at their guesthouse, where they insisted on searching their rooms.
"They claimed it was a security check on the room ... then they took three people, put them into a police car, and drove them back to Shanghai," he said.
Sent back by police
Tang Zhaoxing, an activist from the southeastern province of Fujian, said he had also traveled to Suzhou, hoping to mark the 50th anniversary of Lin's death, but was escorted from the area by police.
"I have the utmost respect for Lin Zhao's story," Tang said. "She dared to stand up and call for democracy and the rule of law in China."
"The government talks about the rule of law these days, but it's really a fascist country," said Tang, who was detained by police when he showed up at the site with flowers for Lin's grave.
"They asked me whether anyone had organized it, and I said I didn't know, and that I was ... there alone, of my own accord," he said. "The police told me to leave; they said I had to leave Suzhou, and they wouldn't be so nice to me if I came back the next day."
The police bought Tang a train ticket and sent him back to Shanghai.
Jiangsu resident Cheng Huaishan said a number of activists had been placed under close surveillance or house arrest to prevent them from going to Lin Zhao's grave.
Cheng said one activist from the central province of Hunan was kept in handcuffs and interrogated for several hours.
"He was interrogated six times, and I couldn't get in touch with him," he said. "His mobile number wasn't working."
An officer who answered the phone at the Suzhou city police department said they were unable to take enquries, as Monday was the Labor Day public holiday in China.
Lin Zhao, whose birth name was Peng Lingzhao, has long been a poignant symbol for Chinese dissidents and democracy activists, but she has since also become a focal point for the country's army of petitioners, ordinary people who pursue complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party through official channels.
A writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Lin was a star student at the prestigious Beijing University's Chinese language department in the 1950s, where she worked for the student poetry publication "Red Mansion."
Lin was branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in 1957 for her criticism of then supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.
She then went on to publicly defend army general Peng Dehuai's criticism of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), during which tens of millions are estimated to have starved to death.
Initially detained on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Lin was later handed a 20-year jail term for "counterrevolution."
She was subjected to brutal torture while in jail, but continued to write until her pen and paper were taken away in September 1964, after which she wrote poems and essays on the walls and bedding using a hairpin dipped in her own blood.
She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36 after her sentence was changed to the death penalty because she refused to plead guilty.
She had previously written a message in her own blood, which read:"History will declare that I am innocent."
Her mother and sister knew nothing of the execution until police visited the family two days later, demanding payment for the bullets used to kill her.
Lin's treatment at the hands of the state was believed to have led to the suicide of both parents, at different times. She has a surviving sister who lives in the United States.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.