Police in Shanghai have detained three people after they tried to canvass for an independent candidate in forthcoming elections to district-level People's Congress legislative bodies.
Veteran rights activists Feng Zhenghu, Zheng Peipei, Xu Peiling and Cui Fofang were taken away by local police as they canvassed potential voters in Shanghai's Wujiaochang district.
The trio had been handing out leaflets in support of Feng's candidacy in forthcoming People's Congress elections, and were detained at around 3.00 p.m. on Sunday, Feng told RFA.
Feng was later released, but calls to the cell phones of Xu and Cui resulted in switched-off messages on Monday.
"A few of us went to the police station to see if we could find them today, but we were told that they haven't been released yet," Feng said on Monday.
"They are still being held in the police station here in Wujiaochang."
Feng said he and his fellow activists had gathered at around 2.00 p.m. to begin handing out leaflets, and were taken away around one hour later.
"Cui Fufang called me as they were taking her away and I ran out and found her," Feng said. "The police told me she was being summoned for questioning."
"I asked if they had a warrant, and [the police officer] said he had a verbal warrant."
The detentions are believed to be the second for Cui and the third for Xu since Feng's attempted candidacy began.
Stifling Feng's candidacy
Shanghai-based rights activist Chen Jianfang said Xu and the others had already been detained for more than 24 hours, in a bid to stifle Feng's attempted candidacy.
"Before, they would just hold them for a few hours, maybe five or six, before releasing them," Chen said. "But now they've been inside for more than 24 hours."
She said police may hand an administrative jail term to the activists, long enough to keep them out of the way during Wednesday's local election.
"I'm guessing that they'll be locked up for a few days this time," Chen said. "They will be choosing the People's Congress deputies on the 16th, and their aim is to prevent Feng Zhenghu from becoming a deputy."
Chen said the move was unconstitutional, however.
"Citizens have the right both to run for election and to vote in elections," she said. "They are trampling the constitution underfoot, because might is right; there's no such thing as the rule of law."
Feng, whose election slogan reads "Uphold the constitution: live a happy life!" said he had pledged in his promotional leaflets to uphold constitutional government and to protect the rule of law.
China's electoral guidelines state that candidates may put themselves forward if they receive recommendations from at least 10 local voters in direct elections to district and township level People's Congresses.
But powerful vested interests mean that the majority of local "elections" are decided in advance, while independent candidates are frequently targeted for persecution, harassment, and detention.
Official media have also warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.
Heavy tail on Feng
Feng said he has been continually followed by volunteers from his neighborhood committee police force since launching his candidacy.
"There are public servants, as well as a few privately hired security guards, and they follow me and sit all around me wherever I go," Feng said. "If I try to meet with voters, they bar the way immediately."
"Right now they are basically standing guard outside my front door, about seven or eight of them, 24 hours a day," he said.
There are more than 20 of them, and they work in shifts of seven or eight people. They follow me and everything."
But Feng said he wouldn't give up.
"I'm going to keep doing this until the very last day," he said.
In Beijing, rights lawyer Cheng Hai was also held at a local police station for several hours on Sunday after canvassing as a People's Congress district election candidate.
Cheng was taken away amid scuffles between police and the wives of two detained human rights lawyers, who were helping him campaign in Beijing's Chaoyang district on Sunday morning, he told RFA following his release.
"Wang Qiaoling had her scarf grabbed by a police officer, leaving a red mark on her neck," Cheng said. "Li Wenzu went to help her, and the police banged her head against the car window, leaving her with pain in her jaw and forehead."
"I myself was very roughly manhandled into the police car," he said.
"I told them that their barbaric tactics showed they cared nothing for the rule of law, but they just said it had nothing to do with me," he said.
"They were very rough, and totally refused to issue me with any arrest papers," Cheng added. "They said I could sue them however I wanted but that was the way it was going to be."
Layers of rubber-stamp assemblies
Beijing-based rights lawyer Yu Wensheng said the authorities are determined to stop Cheng Hai from standing in the election.
"I think they just want to create an atmosphere of terror, and that's why they are using these repressive tactics," Yu said.
"They want to make sure Cheng Hai's campaign can't go ahead properly, but actually they are undermining the electoral process."
Every three to five years, China "elects" more than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels across the country to local-level People's Congresses in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships. The congresses largely rubber stamp party decisions and personnel choices.
But apart from a token group of "democratic parties" that never oppose or criticize the ruling party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
Last week, would-be independent candidates expressed concern over the safety of constitutional scholar and former People's Congress deputy Yao Lifa, who has been incommunicado since the beginning of the month.
Yao, who in 1998 became the first independent delegate to be elected to a municipal seat in a local People's Congress, has since coached other election hopefuls via social media how to win votes.
His bid to use his status to campaign for poverty alleviation and the rights of local people inspired a nationwide movement to field independent candidates in local elections.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Lau Siu-fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.