Authorities in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang have detained and questioned two online activists after they made a banner in support of detained rights lawyer Xie Yang, who has reported being tortured in detention.
Yu Yunfeng and girlfriend Li Baihua were dragged away from their home on Wednesday morning by police in the provincial capital Harbin, they told RFA.
They were taken to the local police station, where they were held for 10 hours and questioned about their protest over Xie's torture.
"The main reason was the online campaign in support of lawyer Xie Yang that started a few days ago," Yu said. "I printed out a banner with Xie Yang's photo on it; it was about four meters long and 1.2 meters wide."
He, Li, and a few friends had unfurled the banner, which was signed with his own name and also referred to local rights campaigns.
"They hauled me in for questioning because of the banner, because I got some people together to [unfurl it]," Yu said.
"They came to my place, officers from the police station, and then they locked the outer doors, so that when I came in, there were 10 or more police officers waiting for me."
"They had a detention docket, and they confiscated our cell phones. I demanded to see their warrant, but they didn't have one, nor did they have an official summons."
The couple's friend and fellow activist Wang Binsheng said it was China's state security police who detained Yu and Li, who tried to resist at first.
"When they were taking them away, Li resisted, and her arm knocked the team leader's mouth, breaking the skin on his lip," Wang said. "I think his dental implant was a bit loose."
Meanwhile Yu said the couple were warned off any further online campaigns.
"They told me not to go posting anything that would disrupt public order," he said. "I had to sign a guarantee, or they wouldn't have let me come home."
Fellow rights activist Liu Jinlong said the government is keen to suppress any authentic expression among its citizens.
"Basically, if you're just a regular citizen [in China], you don't have any human rights," Liu said. "That's all they care about, clamping down on the tiniest thing."
"Anyone who stands up for justice becomes a target for them," he said.
Director Xu Jiazhen of the Kang'an district police station, where Yu and Li were taken, confirmed they had been detained.
"Where did you hear about this? It's nothing. We're just having a chat, that's all," Xu said.
Asked about the content of the "chat," he replied: "I can't tell you that ... because I don't know you. You could be anyone."
Torture, death threats
Rights activists are calling for the immediate release of Xie Yang, detailing his lawyers' reports of his torture in a police-run detention center in the central province of Hunan.
Initially detained on July 11, 2015, Xie was held under "residential surveillance at a designated location" in a government guesthouse in Hunan's provincial capital, Changsha, where he was confined in a "hanging chair" made of plastic chairs stacked high above the ground for hours at a time, so that his legs swelled up and he was in excruciating pain, he told his lawyers.
He was also deprived of sleep, food, and water and repeatedly beaten, humiliated, and taunted with death threats against his family, according to his lawyers' notes, which were published online last week.
Xie said he was tortured again after being moved to the police-run Changsha No. 2 Detention Center following his formal arrest on Jan. 9, 2016.
Activists across China launched an online protest selfie campaign after the reports emerged.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.