Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained dozens of people as they headed to a Communist Party cemetery to mark a traditional grave-sweeping festival, as activists elsewhere were warned off visiting the tombs of politically 'sensitive' figures.
"There were a lot of us [on Sunday]," participant Wang Shufen told RFA on Monday. "Some of us had already got as far as Babaoshan [cemetery], while others hadn't got there yet and were still at the southern railway station [in Beijing]."
She said those detained were mostly petitioners, ordinary Chinese in Beijing to pursue complaints against their local governments, and that they were taken to the Jiujingshan detention center on the outskirts of the city.
"There were people from right across China, and they are still being taken away from Babaoshan today, busload by busload," Wang said, estimating that each bus could carry at least 70 people.
"We saw more than a dozen, maybe 20 buses leave there," she said. "They were being taken to Jiujingshan, where they were released."
She said the petitioners had intended to walk through the cemetery, laying wreaths on the graves of well-known political figures.
"We weren't going to cause trouble," she said.
The Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website said police are now demanding a grave-sweeping permit from anyone visiting Babaoshan during the Qingming festival, when graves are traditionally visited for cleaning and ancestral offerings.
Fellow petitioner Wang Lijun said security is extremely tight in the capital ahead of the festival, which is often used by activists to honor key figures in the political mythology of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The practice is often used to highlight ongoing grievances, however, and the Chinese leadership strongly discourages the use of former revolutionaries as a focus for protest.
"There was an order from higher up, and security is now very tight on the ground," Wang Lijun said. "It seems as if central government is stepping up the pressure on local governments, who are stepping up security and stability maintenance activities."
"But the local governments don't resolve complaints or grievances; they just suppress them," he said.
"A lot of people have been heading to Babaoshan in the past few days, and ... they are getting taken to Jiujingshan."
Security was also tight around the grave of President Xi Jinping's father, revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun, where more than 100 people flocked with wreaths and flowers, participants said.
"There were really a lot [of people], more than 100," participant Tian Qingrong said. "There were police there too, and they took some people away ... nobody I recognized."
"They were buying them tickets and sending them back home, because they were petitioners, who have a different status," Tian said.
"We weren't detained, but they told us to buy our own tickets to leave ... so we did."
Li Wangyang grave off limits
Meanwhile, authorities in the central province of Hunan ordered family members not to visit the grave of democracy activist Li Wangyang, whose death in June 2012 sparked a public outcry.
Thousands of people signed an online petition calling for an independent probe into the death of the veteran 1989 pro-democracy activist after official claims that he killed himself while in police custody were disputed by activists and even a Hong Kong official.
Li, 62, died at a hospital in Shaoyang city in the custody of local police in June 2012. When relatives arrived at the scene, his body was hanging by the neck from the ceiling near his hospital bed, but many believed his 'hanging' death was staged.
Li's brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu said he and his wife Li Wangling are now under surveillance by state security police at their home in Hunan's Shaoyang city.
"I had been planning to go and lay a wreath [on Monday] but we'll have to see what the authorities say," Zhao told RFA on Sunday. "They have sent people to keep watch outside our gates, and they are following me."
"They also paid a call on us ... and we asked them on what basis [they were watching us] but they didn't reply," Zhao said.
"There are some things I can't really say because this phone is also being monitored," he said. "If I told you, they'd come for me again."
Around a dozen rights activists in Hunan were also approached by police ahead of Qingming, they told RFA.
"I have been warned several times now; some people came to talk with me from the local police station," local activist Xie Zhou said. "They told me not to go [to Li Wangyang's grave]. They said they were trying to help me."
"It's very clear that they are also covertly monitoring this phone line," Xie said. "I think that if I did try to go to Li's grave, I would probably be harassed."
Another local activist said state security police are also watching Li's grave.
"I think it would be OK if you just stopped for a very short time, but if you spend a longer time there, the local police and state security police show up and give you grief," activist Ou Biaofeng said.
"We will have to avoid this sensitive time this year," said Ou, who said he typically visits Li's grave once a year, once surveillance stops after the Qingming festival.
Repeated calls to the Hunan provincial police department rang unanswered on Sunday.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Si-lam for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.