Updated at 5:10 p.m. EST on 2012-02-25
Authorities in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou have detained and beaten several activists who staged a recent protest over this month's North Korean nuclear test, rights activists said on Monday.
"Four people are in detention by Guangzhou police for 'illegal assembly and demonstration,'" the rights group Weiquanwang said.
It said Zhang Shengyu and Liu Yuandong had each received administrative sentences of 15 days, and were being held in the Yuexiu district detention center in Guangzhou.
Xu Lin was handed a seven-day detention in the Panyu district detention center, while Liu Yunyun was being held in the Haizhu district detention center for an unknown period, the group said.
"Weiquanwang strongly protests this suppression by the Guangzhou authorities of citizens' right to take part in gatherings, demonstrations, and protests, as well as environmental protection," it said.
"We demand that the authorities immediately release all those activists who were detained."
Between 13 and 16 people took part in Saturday's flash-mob protest on the streets of Guangzhou, in a show of public anger at the test on China's doorstep.
Around 10 protesters were detained while eating a meal together following the protest, although not all were handed administrative sentences, fellow activist Yuan Xiaohua said.
"Zhang Maozhong and Sun Desheng were both beaten, and Wang Aizhong was beaten up quite badly, while I heard that Liu Yuandong was also beaten during his time in detention," said Yuan.
"Cheng Qiubo and Ran Xiang were released," Yuan added. "It seems [Ran] was taken to a police station in Panyu rather than the one nearby."
"I don't know what happened to the rest of them, because they were unable to get in contact with their families," he said.
Cheng Qiubo said in a brief telephone interview on Sunday: "The police came to the scene and all of us were dragged away."
"Afterwards, I found out that there were a few people who were detained."
Guangzhou-based lawyer Sui Muqing said he had been to visit Liu Yuandong in the detention center on Monday, and had seen bruises on his face after he suffered a beating at police hands.
Sui said a group of lawyers has already agreed to represent the protesters.
"They are being held under administrative detention for illegal assembly," he said. "The next step will be an administrative review, because these aren't criminal cases."
"We are still in the administrative stage of dealing with this, and we are looking into hiring a lawyer from Beijing," Sui added.
Ran Xiang later posted to her Twitter-like account that she had been dragged away from the meal by police and questioned for 11 hours at the police station before being released.
She said another detainee, Liu Yunyun, had managed to get a message out to say that police had demanded she write a "confession," but that she had refused to sign a document presented to her.
Police had responded by saying that Liu could die in the detention center, and that no one would know about it, Ran wrote.
Outrage over detentions
Netizens reacted with outrage to the news of the detentions, with angry tweets from Hunan scholar Fu Zizhuang and Chen Qingqiu of the South China University of Technology.
A Guangzhou-based Twitter user identified only as Xiao Biao said the authorities were opposed to any form of organized protest by Chinese citizens.
"These sorts of protests put the spotlight on the government, which they really want to avoid," Xiao Biao wrote.
"If I'm honest, I am in despair over China."
The test earlier this month of a miniaturized nuclear warhead not far from the Chinese border prompted online outrage at the time, with many commentators saying they thought the test was intended as a threat to China rather than to the United States.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.