Independent candidates seeking election to local lawmaking bodies across China say they have been repeatedly detained, harassed and threatened by the authorities, who say their actions are breaking the law.
Pressure is mounting in particular on would-be candidates to district parliaments in Beijing, as the deadline for submitting nominations looms.
"Today I went to hand in my candidacy forms at the election office," Han Ying, who is standing for election to the local legislature in her home district of Beijing, said on Friday.
"There was a group of unidentified men, as well as police officers and plainclothes police gathered outside my home," Han said. "When I went out to hand in my form, I was followed by some police and some private security guards."
Han, whose candidacy was supported by more than 80 local residents, eight times the number stipulated by China's election law, said she had received a call from the election office.
"After I had handed in the form, they called me ... and said 20 of my sponsors were from work units not within the bounds of this district, and that I could only stand for election if I was resident in the district."
"But I have more than 80 signatures sponsoring my candidacy," Han said.
Han said her microblog posts had been routinely deleted after she had tweeted about her "kidnapping" by police, who took her out of town last week to an undisclosed location.
"Some netizens were saying they couldn't read what I was posting," she said. "I have been posting the whole time this past week."
Dozens of political activists across China have joined the campaign to file applications to stand for the elections, in spite of official warnings that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.
Official media have said that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the district-level congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
However, activists are hoping to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.
Authorities in Beijing have taken to forcing independent candidates to the National People's Congress (NPC) at district level to go away "on vacation" for a few days, taking them to tourist resorts outside the city and holding them incommunicado.
Xicheng district candidate Ye Qingchun said she was taken to the outskirts of the capital on the day of a meeting for election candidates.
"While I was there, I got a phone call saying the meeting was starting, but I couldn't get back in time to be there," Ye said.
"The election office are now saying that it's too late for me."
Qiao Mu, a professor at the prestigious Beijing Foreign Studies University, which trains much of China's diplomatic corps, said his candidacy was supported by more than 100 students at the college.
But he said in a post on a popular microblogging platform that the authorities found every means possible to disqualify sponsors of independent candidates.
"Given that the ... acceptance rate for sponsors is about 11 percent, I should have had 1,000 names," Qiao wrote. "As it was, [many of my sponsors] were declared invalid, and I was reduced to a humiliating two names."
But he called on students to vote in the Nov. 8 polls anyway.
"It doesn't matter who you support. Don't throw away your power," he told them.
He Depu, a former member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) who stood as a candidate for provincial elections in 1980 and 1998, said the authorities were seeking to ensure that not a single independent candidate won an election.
"They are using every means possible to prevent independent candidates from ever being confirmed formally as candidates," He said. "However, their actions are breaking the Election Law."
A growing movement
The attempt to field ordinary citizens to run against Party-backed candidates, who are not used to serious political opposition, has spread across China, with activists coordinating their attempts online, campaigning on each other's behalf, and trading advice and tips.
In the southwestern city of Guiyang, the wife of independent hopeful Chen Xi said state security police had searched the couple's home and detained him for questioning this week after he downloaded the nomination forms for his local NPC poll.
"I hope that the law enforcement agencies will proceed according to the law," Chen's wife, surnamed Zhang, told RFA. "Down at the police station, they don't even know where he's been taken."
A second Guiyang-based election candidate, Li Renke, said police had warned him off continuing to seek nomination.
"The station chief threatened me, saying that the police were already investigating Chen Xi," Li said. "He told me not to seek nomination, because it would bring me nothing good."
Some of the candidates come from the least privileged groups in society, including those who have been forcibly evicted from their homes, or who have long campaigned for their legal rights.
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels will be elected during nationwide elections, held every five years, in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7, 2011 through December 2012.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.