Five activists jailed by authorities in Shanghai for trying to help independent local election hopeful Feng Zhenghu in his campaign for a seat in his district People's Congress have failed to lodge a complaint at their local court.
Xu Peiling, Cui Fafang, Dai Zhongyao, Zheng Peipei and Fan Guijuan were handed administrative sentences of five days apiece for helping Feng in his bid to run as an independent candidate in last November's elections to the Yangpu District People's Congress. Feng was held at the same time.
The five had distributed leaflets to local residents advertising Feng's candidacy, and were detained by police for "hampering the free exercise of the right to vote."
On Tuesday, they tried to file a formal lawsuit calling for the revocation of the sentences and fines paid by them at the time.
"The five of us were illegally detained by police in Yangpu district last November for five days, but we are certainly not taking this lying down," Xu told RFA.
"We have done nothing to break the law, so we have just now tried to lodge a formal complaint with the court in Yangpu district ... the official in the window wouldn't do anything," she said.
"He refused to accept our paperwork, and he didn't proceed according to law."
Xu said she and her fellow detainees are entitled to appeal against the sentences under the China Administrative Detention Law, and courts are obliged to accept such appeals and advise plaintiffs of the status of their their lawsuit within seven days.
Xu said the attempt is the third time the activists have sought redress from the Yangpu district court.
Fellow plaintiff Cui Fufang called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to ensure that officials abide by his call for "rule of law."
"I think the rule of law is getting worse, and Xi Jinping said himself at the 18th Party Congress that the country should be ruled by law," she said.
"But now, ordinary citizens can't even file a legal complaint, not even at a higher level," Cui said. "So all this talk of rule of law is just empty; it has no basis in reality."
"The court treated us very harshly ... as if we have no business trying to make ourselves heard whatsoever," she said.
Feng, whose election slogan read "Uphold the constitution: live a happy life!" had pledged in his promotional leaflets to uphold constitutional government and to protect the rule of law.
China's electoral guidelines state that candidates may put themselves forward if they receive recommendations from at least 10 local voters in direct elections to district and township level People's Congresses.
But powerful vested interests mean that the majority of local "elections" are decided in advance, while independent candidates are frequently targeted for persecution, harassment, and detention.
Official media have also warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.
Every three to five years, China "elects" more than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels across the country to local-level People's Congresses in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships. The congresses largely rubber stamp party decisions and personnel choices.
But apart from a token group of "democratic parties" that never oppose or criticize the ruling party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
In 1998, constitutional scholar and former People's Congress deputy Yao Lifa, became the first independent delegate to be elected to a municipal seat in a local People's Congress.
He has since coached other election hopefuls via social media how to win votes, facing ongoing detentions and harassment in the process.
His bid to use his status to campaign for poverty alleviation and the rights of local people inspired a nationwide movement to field independent candidates in local elections.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.