Authorities in Beijing have stepped up surveillance and harassment of political activists who tried to register as candidates on the eve of district-level parliamentary polls, closing their online accounts and holding them under house arrest, activists said.
Beijing voters go to the polls on Tuesday to choose 4,349 delegates to their local-level National People's Congress (NPC), but not one of the 13 known independent candidates who put their names forward made the final list of 6,615 officially approved candidates.
However, political activist Ye Qing, who was one of those seeking nomination without the backing of China's ruling Communist Party, said there was still one option left to her supporters.
"I am now calling on people to use the option "choose someone else" on the ballot paper, and to fill in my name where there is space to do so," she said. "So it's not totally hopeless."
She said many of the would-be independent election candidates who hadn't made the official lists of candidates had hoped to put out their message to voters via the Internet.
However, attempts to search for the verified account of Beijing Foreign Studies University professor Qiao Mu, one of the independent hopefuls, on the popular Sina microblogging service on Monday resulted in the message "There is no such account."
Other sites blocked
Fellow would-be candidate Han Ying, who got as far as being listed on a preliminary list of candidates two weeks ahead of the polls, said she too had had her Sina microblog account blocked.
Homepages opened by election candidates on the social networking site Renren had also been closed, she said.
"They have closed my microblog account," Han said on Sunday. "They are also interfering with my home life."
"I was prevented from leaving home this morning when I tried to leave to take my kid to school."
"I have also had a lot of threats."
Han's husband, surnamed Liu, said Han had the support of her family and "some of the villagers," but that the number that voted for her was now unlikely to be very high.
"A lot of the independent candidates are now under very tight surveillance," he said. "Han Ying can't even go out right now."
Beijing-based rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who was elected to his local NPC in 2006 and who also tried to register as a candidate in this year's election, said the authorities had stepped up supervision of rights activists in the run-up to this year's polls.
"I'm sorry, but I can't give any interviews at the moment," Xu said. "It is election time."
Asked if the authorities had told him he couldn't take part in the elections, Xu answered: "Yes, that was their attitude."
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 Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.