Chinese authorities have detained two prominent rights activists who were en route to Geneva ahead of a U.N. review of Beijing's rights record, and are questioning two more on suspicion of subversion after they campaigned against China's application to join a U.N. human rights agency, overseas groups and relatives said this week.
Beijing-based activist Cao Shunli was stopped at Beijing's Capital International Airport on Sept. 14 and questioned by state security police, the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group said in an emailed statement.
On the same day, Guangdong rights activist Chen Jianfang was also intercepted at Guangzhou's Baiyun International Airport, it said.
The activists, who have been incommunicado since, had been en-route to Geneva to attend a training course at the invitation of a Geneva-based rights group ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of China on Oct. 22.
Chen, a farmer-turned-petitioner who has been repeatedly detained in illegal "black jails" and who served a 15-month term in labor camp in March 2010, said she was threatened with violence by airport police, who also tore up her plane ticket.
Both women had been active in transparency campaigns around the U.N. review process, sending information requests, suing the foreign ministry, and staging demonstrations outside its gates in a bid to be included in China's submission to the U.N. rights agency, CHRD said.
"In recent weeks, police in several Chinese cities have interrogated other activists and lawyers about the same training program and warned them about serious consequences," the group said.
It said the authorities had already rejected two activists’ applications for passports and put another activist under criminal detention only days before his scheduled trip to Geneva.
Meanwhile, authorities in the eastern city of Hangzhou detained at least three activists in the city who campaigned against China's inclusion in the U.N. Human Rights Council, to which it has applied, while an activist in the eastern province of Anhui was also being held by police, relatives and fellow activists said.
"They asked me why I wanted to add my signature to this campaign, and I say that the members of the U.N. Human Rights Council should be countries that respect human rights and model this behavior," Hangzhou-based activist Chen Shuqing said in a recent interview.
"But the Chinese government fails to carry out its human rights mission in cases in the Chinese mainland where violations of rights occur, so how can they advance the cause of human rights for the whole of humanity?"
Chen said he had been warned off taking part in similar campaigns in future.
Meanwhile, Hangzhou-based activists Lu Gengsong and Gao Haibin, who had also formed a vocal part of a related campaign, were currently being held by police on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," Lu's wife, who gave only her surname Wang, said.
"He was summoned [on Monday] at 4:00 p.m., and they confiscated two computers," Wang said of her husband.
She said Lu had done nothing subversive.
"He just helped some ordinary people to write articles and documents to protect their rights," she said. "He mostly didn't even go out."
Calls to the cell phone of Hangzhou democracy activist Gao Haibin, who activists said had also been summoned to the police station on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," went unanswered earlier this week.
The wife of Anhui-based activist Li Wenge, who gave only her surname Zhong, confirmed that he had been summoned too, but that she didn't know the reason.
Reported by Wei Ling for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.