Dozens of prominent rights lawyers have signed an open letter calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to uphold the rights and freedoms enshrined in the country's constitution, activists said this week.
The letter had garnered more than 100 signatures, more than 60 of them members of China's embattled legal profession, its author told RFA ahead of China's first-ever National Constitution Day on Thursday.
"We wish to see our constitution taken seriously, and protection for human rights and the right of citizens to go about their business in peace to be taken seriously," the letter, penned by rights lawyer Wang Quanping, said.
"This should be the Chinese dream," it said, in a reference to President Xi Jinping's slogan for the country's future.
But it said simply setting aside a day in the calendar to honor the idea of the constitution isn't enough.
"If there is no system to oversee its implementation, and those who are in breach of the constitution aren't investigated and brought to justice, then the constitution will remain outside the legal system," the letter said.
"In such circumstances, the constitution is just a piece of paper filled with empty words, and the Chinese dream becomes the Chinese nightmare," it said.
"The authority of the constitution is turned to waste paper."
Wang said the letter was signed by a broad cross-section of Chinese society.
"There people from as far away as Xinjiang, there are teachers, drivers, waiting staff and barkeeps, university students and office workers," he told RFA. "It's really very broad."
A serious matter
According to Wang, China's civil servants and Communist Party members are becoming more serious about the importance of the constitution.
But much more remains to be done, he said.
"Nowadays, Chinese civil servants must take an oath to uphold the constitution, which is a very good thing," Wang said. "But I think this is still rather symbolic."
"People won't really respect the constitution, and it won't really have any authority, until the government actively pursues constitutional rule," he said.
"There are far too many instances of actions that are in breach of the constitution; far too many to count," he said.
He called on China's National People's Congress (NPC) to play an active role in enforcing the principles of free speech and human rights enshrined in the 1980 document.
"Without investigations into those who breach it, the constitution is useless," Wang said.
Staging a protest
In Beijing on Thursday, several hundred people with long-running complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party were detained after they staged a protest outside the headquarters of state-run broadcaster CCTV, Shanghai-based activist Zhu Jindi said from within the unofficial Jiujingzhuang detention center on the outskirts of Beijing.
"We're in Jiujingzhuang right now; they brought us all here, one bus at a time," Zhu said. "There were 800 people here today, all from Shanghai alone."
"They took my ID card away, and then they started calling our names, one by one, to go in."
She said the protest was timed to coincide with National Constitution Day.
"But as soon as we got out of the subway, the police surrounded and stopped us, and forced us to get on the buses," Zhu said. "China has no rule of law, but we had to come out...if we hadn't, we would be even less likely to get a result."
Earlier this week, two activists in Shanghai unfurled banners in the city's People's Park calling on the government to uphold Article 35 of the constitution.
But petitioner and rights activist Chen Jianfang said she and fellow activist Sun Hongqin were "roughly handled" by four or five police officers, when they were thrown into a police vehicle.
"They used brute force, and one policeman...grabbed me by my hair, and banged my head against something, and bashed my head with his fist," Chen told RFA.
They asked us: "Do you have any qualifications to be talking about the law like that?"
"Why do you need Article 35 of the constitution?"
Article 35 states that Chinese citizens enjoy the freedoms of expression, publication, association, movement and protest.
Sun said they were held in a local police station for three hours on Wednesday before being released.
"I had unfurled a banner, and Chen Jianfang took a photo," she said. "They snatched away two banners that I had in my purse."
Eyewitness Tan Lanying said the police had handled the petitioners "with violence."
"As soon as Chen Jianfang took her photo, the police rushed in like mad dogs and snatched their stuff away, and several of them dragged her away and beat her," Tan said.
"There is no guarantee for the personal safety of ordinary people; it's terrible to beat people up just for putting up a banner," she said.
"We have no human rights."
Reported by Yang Fan and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.