Authorities in the Chinese capital on Friday briefly detained 12 people seeking to stand in forthcoming nationwide parliamentary elections, as hackers targeted the Skype accounts of another activist.
The group was taken to the Jingshan police station, according to fellow activist He Depu.
"We were planning to organize an activity at the home of one of the candidates this morning," He said on Friday. "We were going to divide up our campaigns by residential district."
"At around 8.30 a.m. the head of the Jingshan police station showed up, and told the candidates to go with him, separating them from the rest of us."
"A lot of police showed up around 9.00 a.m. and took the 12 candidates away for questioning. We haven't heard anything yet," said He, a member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) who attempted to stand as an independent candidate in NPC elections in 1998.
Elections for the district and county-level National People's Congresses kicked off in the capital on Thursday, attracting dozens of political activists hoping to win nomination as candidates outside the ruling Communist Party.
However, the Chinese authorities warned recently that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, and that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the People's Congress would first have to clear "due legal procedures."
'I can't talk ....'
Would-be NPC candidate Zheng Wei confirmed the detentions. "I am in the police station right now," she said.
But she declined to comment further on the reason for her detention. "I can't talk about that," she said.
Beijing-based activist Wu Lihong, who had hoped to stand as an NPC candidate, said she was detained at the Jingshan police station for seven hours.
"We were all suddenly taken in for questioning," Wu said. "We thought this was bizarre and inexplicable."
"We had only announced we would go [there] to start campaigning yesterday evening," she said.
"I expect the police were prepared in advance, because as soon as we got to Zheng Wei's place we were taken away."
A third activist, Wang Xiuzhen, said the group was given no food and only one container of water to drink.
"The whole thing was incredible," Wang said. "We didn't do anything, nor did we break the law."
"This was really too much, to detain us without any legal procedures and with no explanation."
An officer who answered the phone at the Jingshan police station denied the activists had been taken there. "No, they weren't," the officer said, before adding: "We don't take phone queries," and hanging up.
All those detained were released by around 4.00 p.m. local time.
He Depu said NPC election campaigns kicked off in Beijing on Thursday with some fanfare in the official media.
"The state security police have visited a number of people warning them not to try to take part in the elections," He said. "I don't know how things will develop from here."
Meanwhile, Wuhan-based activist Qin Yongmin, who is a friend of former independent NPC delegate and constitutional scholar Yao Lifa, said his Skype account was targeted by unidentified hackers this week, deleting his contacts, many of whom are also critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"They took over my Skype account," Qin said on Friday. "People said that they could still see me online even after my computer broke."
Qin said the hackers had tried to pass a piece of software to Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi. "I could see that someone else was talking to Huang Qi using my name," he said. "They wanted him to use some software."
"It's fairly clear that they wanted to use the software to attack his computer."
China has denied using state-sponsored hacking, but official media reports earlier this year revealed footage of cyberattack software targeting the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Yao Lifa was recently detained at a secret location and released with injuries. He is now under heavy surveillance from state security police, a move thought to be linked to recent moves by activists to seek candidacy in the NPC elections.
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 through December of next year.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.