Authorities detained several activists and violated the human rights of others across China Sunday as the country marked Law Advocacy Day, according to netizens and rights campaigners.
The annual event, held on Dec. 4, was launched to promote rule of law in China, but instead saw several high-profile dissidents, their supporters, and other petitioners harassed by police.
On Sunday, a group of supporters, including a female netizen by the online name of “Wu Ti,” Buddhist nun Miaojue, and the mother of AIDS rights activist Tian Xi, went to visit artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei at his home in the Beijing suburb of Caochangdi.
However, when they arrived at Ai’s residence, police stopped them from knocking on his door. Ai opened the door, but was requested by the police officer to close it, Wu Ti said in an interview on Monday.
The security personnel then sent the three visitors to an extralegal detention facility, or “black jail,” in Jiujingzhuang, after taking them to a nearby police station.
“I was detained for about five hours, and I told the police there why the charges against Ai Weiwei are unlawful,” Wu Ti said.
Police refused the three women lunch and later questioned them about whether they intended to lend money to Ai, who is now fighting tax evasion charges from the authorities and has been receiving donations from netizens.
Ai was hit with a tax bill following his 81-day detention by police at a secret location earlier this year, which sparked an international outcry and prompted an angry response from Beijing.
Official media reports later said he was being detained under investigation for "economic crimes," but Ai and his lawyers suspect the tax charges are a political backlash against his vocal activism on behalf of China's least privileged people.
Also on Sunday, Beijing-based legal expert Xu Zhiyong told RFA he was blocked from leaving his own home by police, although he was reluctant to provide details of the incident by phone.
“I cannot give you any details. Everything is explained on my Twitter page,” Xu said, adding that he feared that his phone was being monitored by the authorities. Twitter is blocked in China, but can be accessed through the use of a proxy server which hides a user’s identity.
Xu was an independent candidate at this year’s local elections, and he originally planned to go out Sunday to deliver coats to petitioners who are forced to live outside in snowy Beijing during the winter months.
“Though I myself cannot give you these donated coats, more and more people are paying attention to your suffering. Like you, I must suffer from lack of freedom, which is a price any combatant has to pay in the fight for freedom and justice,” Xu wrote on his Twitter page.
As in past years, several petitioners made an attempt Sunday to go to China’s official TV network CCTV to voice their grief on Law Advocacy Day, but were met by a heavy police presence.
“Many police officers were there to guard the CCTV office, and they checked everyone getting close to the building,” said Wu Tianli, a petitioner in Beijing.
Wu said she was placed on a bus and sent to Jiujingzhuang by authorities.
“On the bus they searched my bag and became alarmed by a bottle of water. The officer opened the cap and smelled it. I realized that he wanted to check if it was a flammable liquid someone could use in a possible self-immolation,” she said.
“I have never seen such high vigilance against petitioners.”
Meanwhile, in the eastern province of Shandong, Zuo Bingning, Hai Tao and other two netizens traveled to Linyi city center and unfurled a banner with the words “Free Chen Guangcheng,” referring to the blind rights activist under house arrest in the city’s suburban area.
Netizens said Hai Tao was immediately led away by police. On Monday, Zuo Bingning declined to be interviewed, saying he feared retribution by authorities for speaking to the media about the incident.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer who campaigned for the rights of rural women under China's draconian family-planning regime, was jailed for more than four years for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” in August 2006.
Chen and his family have since been confined to their home and denied access to books, paper, or pens and electronic equipment, as well as being cut off from contact with the outside world.
A legal expert in Henan province surnamed Xiao called police harassment of rights campaigners “ridiculous” on a day he said they should be listening to grievances.
“This day should be a reminder to spread legal knowledge and respect for the rule of law, but instead it has become a day of tightened surveillance on rights activists and petitioners.”
Original reporting by Xin Yu and Fang Yuan for Mandarin. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.