Detention and surveillance of activists and government critics are becoming increasingly common, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party tightens its stranglehold on all forms of public dissent and social unrest, a Chinese rights group said on Monday.
Last year saw increasing levels of official control over freedom of expression, including criticisms of the government that were merely implied, the report, issued by the Hubei-based rights group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, said.
"[Government critics] are routinely called in for questioning by state security police, warned, or issued with deletion notices," the report, titled "Annual Report on Stability Maintenance and Human Rights in China, 2013", said.
"In serious or repeated cases, they can be detained or sentenced to jail ... on the pretext of being charged with spreading online rumors, disturbing public order, or picking quarrels," it said.
Report author Liu Feiyue, who founded Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, said China's "stability maintenance" system had expanded to include every area of public life during the past year.
"In today's China, we are living ... under a stability maintenance system, which imposes harsh controls on any form of criticism of the government," Liu told RFA's Mandarin Service.
"Many illegal and inhumane methods are used in the process of implementing these controls," said Liu.
Citing the case of veteran dissident Xue Mingkai, whose father died in suspicious circumstances while in police custody last week, Liu said many dissidents and rights activists across China had experienced "great harm" as a result of their peaceful activities.
"Under such a stability maintenance system, there is no sign of an end to this growing trend," he said. "If anything, the authorities are gradually getting harsher and more frenzied."
He called for "protests and counter-strikes" in response to the situation.
China's nationwide "stability maintenance" system, which now costs more to run than its People's Liberation Army (PLA), tracks the movements and activities of anyone engaged in political or rights activism across the country, activists say.
Under this system, activists and outspoken intellectuals are routinely put under house arrest or other forms of surveillance at politically sensitive times.
Shen Liangqing, a dissident from the eastern province of Anhui, said the number of activists and outspoken Internet users detained by the authorities had risen sharply in 2013, after the administration of President Xi Jinping formally took power in March.
"They detained a large number of people last year ... I saw one statistic that said they had detained 120-130 people," Shen said.
"That's already more dissidents than were detained during the entire administration of Hu [Jintao] and Wen [Jiabao]," he said.
Shen said the backlash against rights abuses by the authorities was also growing, however. "There is growing and strengthening opposition to the dictatorial regime," he said.
But he said Xi's administration appears geared up to ignore public opinion and popular protest.
"The seven seats on the Politburo standing committee are basically made up of second-generation revolutionaries," Shen said. "A lot of these people [are former] Red Guards."
"Their political aim of protecting their turf, of protecting one-party rule, has been strengthened," he added.
Last year, President Xi announced he would lead a new "state security committee" that will tackle social instability and unify other agencies in charge of handling security challenges, both foreign and domestic.
State news agency Xinhua said the committee would "improve the system of national security and the country's national security strategy" so as to "effectively prevent and end social disputes and improve public security."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.