Authorities in China's southwestern province of Sichuan have detained the founder of a prominent rights website, taking him and 17 other activists on a forced "vacation" ahead of a meeting of G20 finance ministers in his hometown at the weekend.
Chengdu-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, spoke to RFA en route to the remote mountainous region of Xichang in southwestern Sichuan.
He is currently being escorted and watched round-the-clock by four state security police.
"Six police officers came to my home at 10.00 a.m. today, and asked for my cooperation," Huang said. "They wanted me not to be in Chengdu for the duration of the G20 summit, so they sent people to escort me to Xichang on vacation."
"I am en route to Xichang right now," he said, adding that he had no option but to go along with the plan.
"The police told me very clearly that I would be able to carry out all of my normal activities remotely, and they would send somebody with me," Huang said.
"I will be able to continue all of my rights work from Xichang," he said.
At least 17 detained
Huang said some 17 Chengdu activists were also detained.
The Tianwang website, which mostly tracks attempts to lodge complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party through official channels, relies on petitioners and citizen journalists for its updates on rights campaigns.
"I know of 17 people who have been detained near the venue for the summmit," Huang said.
He said the petitioners, who included petitioners Dong Chunmo, Li Tinghui, Ye Shanghong, Li Zhaoxiu and Li Jianying, had planned to protest the loss of their farmland outside the summit, but were taken instead to a nearby police station.
"Some of them were escorted away on 'vacation,'" Huang said. "There were some who traveled up from Chongqing in the hope of heading to the G20 venue, but I'm pretty sure they were sent away on vacation by the authorities as soon as they got there."
Chengdu-based Li Jianying said he had seen large numbers of police vehicles parked up around the G20 meeting venue.
"Today, I went to the G20 summit venue to air my grievances, and now I've been locked up by police in Maijia guesthouse in Fenghuang Shan, along with a group of other petitioners," he said. "I am calling you without their knowledge."
"There are police, police cars and even fire trucks," Li said. "There are also several dozen private security personnel and the police have cordoned off the whole area around the summit venue."
Li said he had counted 17 detainees in total.
Some of those detained were from Sichuan's Mianjiang district, fellow petitioner Wang Rongwen told RFA.
"Three people came from the neighborhood committee [in Mianjiang] and took [Luo Xiuling] on vacation," Wang said. "She refused to go, so they dragged her off, and forced her to go."
"She's under round-the-clock surveillance in the Xilin mountain district now. They also forcibly vacationed Peng Tianhui and Yan Tafeng from Jinniu district."
China, which holds the rotating presidency of the G20 group of nations this year, will host a meeting of finance ministers and officials in Chengdu from July 23-24.
The summit mechanism was set up at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, in a bid to kickstart a global economic recovery.
Huang was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2011 after launching an investigation into shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of child deaths during the massive 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Huang was convicted of “illegally possessing state secrets” by the Wuhou District Court in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.
Huang’s wife Zeng Li said at the time that the court handed down a severe three-year sentence because of what it described as his “tendency to relapse into criminal activities” following his release from jail in 2005.
Huang launched the Tianwang website in 1999, initially to provide assistance to China’s most vulnerable citizens, but soon became involved in more contemporary rights work, in particular giving a voice to people displaced by government land grabs and forced evictions.
He was arrested June 3, 2000, on charges of voicing grievances for victims of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and for sympathizing with members of the banned Falun Gong religious group.
After being sentenced on May 9, 2003 to a five-year jail term, Huang was released in 2005 after his pretrial detention period was counted towards the total.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.