Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained a veteran pro-democracy activist and held another activist for questioning after they joined a campaign to field independent candidates in forthcoming local legislative elections.
He Depu, a former member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) who stood as a candidate for provincial elections in 1980 and 1998, was taken away by police outside his Beijing home on Wednesday morning, according to Wuhan-based fellow activist Qin Yongmin.
"He Depu, who was assisting the candidates, was pulled into a police car by three regular police and two state security police when he left home," Qin said on Wednesday.
Police swooped on a group of around 10 people, including Wang Xiuzhen, who was attempting to stand as an independent election candidate for the Xinyuan Nanli ward in her home district of Chaoyang.
Qin said the authorities have already sealed off the area, posting large numbers of police officers to patrol its streets.
"They are stopping passersby, and the journalists have been cordoned off far away," Qin said. "Only people [who live there] are being allowed in and out."
"They wouldn't even let the mailman go in. They said they would deliver the letters themselves."
China allows direct provincial and municipal elections for so-called People's Congresses across the country, but the process is tightly controlled by local Communist Party leaders.
The People's Congresses are the lowest bodies in China's tiered parliamentary system. The National People's Congress (NPC) is China's parliament, handpicked by the Communist Party.
Campaigners kept apart
Ye Jinghuan, who is also campaigning for People's Congress elections in her district, said she had been prevented from entering the residential compound where Wang lived.
"The residential management team are in the first row, then there's a row of four or five young state security police, and behind them there are seven or eight old ladies in the doorway," Ye said.
"They are stopping people from going in."
Ye said the campaigners—all of whom were election hopefuls in their own districts—had hoped to hold a planning meeting at Wang's house, but instead were taken to the compound's police room for questioning.
"There are a lot of police here today, and they are all in plain clothes," she said. "They have camcorders ... and they have been shooting us from all possible angles."
Wang said she had been held in the police room for several hours.
"I have been in this room all morning," she said. "I don't know what's going on outside."
Wang said all the candidates had planned to help her campaign on Wednesday, but were now being kept apart from her.
According to Ye, the police operations were being directed on the ground by the deputy chief of police for Chaoyang district.
"We want to be allowed to visit Wang Xiuzhen, and the plainclothes police went to ask the chief, who is right here across the road from me," she said.
"But he was adamant that we shouldn't be allowed to see her."
Polling in the district and county level legislative elections takes place in Beijing on Nov. 8.
Dozens of political activists have joined a campaign to file applications to stand for the elections, in spite of official warnings that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.
Official media have said that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the district-level congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
However, activists are hoping to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.
Beijing-based activist Shao Lihua said she was seeking candidacy in order to give ordinary people a voice.
"Ordinary people try to use the law to protect themselves in matters that affect their personal interest, but the authorities don't enforce the law in a legal manner," Shao said.
"There is no guarantee even for their basic existence."
Some of the candidates come from the least privileged groups in society, including those who have been forcibly evicted from their homes.
Ju Hongyi said she filled out the application form for candidacy on Tuesday, in spite of her continuing battle with cancer.
"I'm not afraid," Ju said. "I have put up with more than 10 years of persecution. They took my home and my property, and my father died."
"I myself have cancer, so I don't care about anything now. I am using the limited life I have left to me," she said.
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 Dai Weisen for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.