Updated at 5:00 p.m. on 2012-10-15
Beijing has intensified a nationwide clampdown on dissident writers and rights activists ahead of a crucial meeting of the country's ruling Chinese Communist Party next month, activists said on Monday.
The family of longtime Shanghai petitioner Wang Kouma said they had received notification from the police department in the city's Zhabei district that he was now criminally detained on charges of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order."
His close friend Chang Xiongfa said the charges had little to do with Wang's activities.
"He had been at home for some time when they arrested him," Chang said. "How can you gather a crowd to cause trouble from your own home? Where did this crowd [allegedly] gather?"
"The only reason they arrested him is the 18th Party Congress," Chang said. "There are others who have been arrested on similar pretexts."
China's political elite will undergo a crucial, once-in-a-decade leadership transition at the congress to be convened in Beijing on Nov. 8, with current Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang are expected to be unveiled as the new leaders in the nation's top posts.
China has launched a nationwide "stability" drive ahead of the congress, with many rights activists and dissidents reported to be under house arrest, either in their homes or in out-of-town locations like holiday resorts.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, rights activist and online author Ye Du said he was summoned by China's state security police for "a chat."
"The police informed me that from now, until the 18th Party Congress finishes, I should find it inconvenient to give any media interviews," Ye said on Monday.
"There were some other things too, but I'm not at liberty to disclose them," he said.
However, the China-based Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website said Ye had been forbidden to leave Guangzhou and to meet up in groups with friends.
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said he had been placed under similar restrictions ahead of the leadership transition.
"They already told me last month that they would be placing me under surveillance around the 18th Party Congress," Tang said. "They weren't specific about the methods they would use."
"If the [crackdown] was particularly tight, they could detain me," he said. "The authorities' methods are pretty much the same as jail, except they don't call it that."
Ailing jailed activist
Meanwhile, the relatives of jailed Zhejiang democracy activist Zhu Yufu said they were concerned about his deteriorating health.
"When I saw him, he looked puffy and swollen," Zhu's ex-wife Jiang Hangli, who visited him with other family members at the weekend in Zhejiang's No. 4 Prison, said on Monday.
"He has high blood pressure and his heart isn't strong, and he couldn't stand upright," she said. "The discs in his spine were all sticking out."
Jiang said Zhu, who was 60 this year, appeared to be getting weaker and weaker since his detention, in spite of already being excused heavy labor.
"He should be put in the sick and disabled section [of the jail]," she said. "They wouldn't let him."
"There is a factory attached to the jail, and they want him to stay in the section with working inmates, where I'm sure there is a lot of noise."
Zhu was given a seven-year jail term in January for "incitement to subvert state power" after he penned a poem calling on the Chinese people to vote with their feet.
The procuratorate’s indictment cited as evidence a poem, “It Is Time,” that Zhu wrote and shared during online calls for 'Jasmine' rallies inspired by protests in the Middle East in early 2011.
Hangzhou-based democracy activist Lu Gengsong called on the prison authorities to improve conditions in detention for Zhu.
"He is already 60 years old, and his health is poor," Lu said. "He has given up a lot for the cause of democracy in China, and he deserves to be treated with a certain basic level of humanity, at the very least."
Lu called on China's presumed leader-in-waiting, vice-president Xi Jinping, to take the country down the path of political reform, once he takes over as president.
"I hope he will also...release all prisoners of conscience, like [Nobel Peace prize laureate] Liu Xiaobo, Zhu Yufu, and others like them," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.