Updated at 01:05 p.m. EST on 10-27-2015
Police in China's capital on Tuesday detained a woman after she set off fireworks on Tiananmen Square, on the first day of a key political meeting in Beijing, eyewitnesses said.
"It was about 10 meters (33 feet) from the security checkpoint [leading to the Square]," eyewitness Sun Dongsheng told RFA. "I had just arrived at the security checkpoint, when I heard the sound of firecrackers being set off behind me."
"I turned around to look, and I heard her talking, basically accusing the local government in [the eastern city of] Wuxi of murder," Sun said.
Armed police and regular officers soon grabbed the woman, he said. "She had probably shouted it about seven or eight times, when the police came over with fire extinguishers and sprayed the firecrackers that were lying there on the ground."
"Then they put the woman into a police vehicle; the whole thing lasted three or four minutes," Sun said.
According to Wuxi-based rights activist Ding Hongfen, the woman's name is He Fengzhu, and she had timed her protest to coincide with the fifth plenum of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's central committee, which runs from Tuesday to Thursday this week in Beijing.
"He Fengzhu has now been detained," Ding said. "She came to Tiananmen Square in Beijing out of anger ... because there were a string of injustices in her family."
Ding said He was protesting against the incarceration of her mother Xu Haifeng and her grandmother in an unofficial detention center, or "black jail," a form of punishment used to target petitioners, ordinary Chinese who complain about official wrongdoing.
"They were detained in a black jail during the military parade on Sept. 3, along with my husband and my father," Ding said.
Fellow petitioner Zhao Guirong said he had also seen the firecrackers go off near the Tiananmen gate.
"I was in line, and I heard the sound of fireworks, and when I turned to see where it was coming from, I saw a pregnant woman shouting 'Murder in Wuxi!'," Zhao told RFA. "I guess she had a grievance."
"As the firecrackers were going off, she was throwing leaflets around in the air," he said. "It was pretty chaotic; the plainclothes police came over immediately and grabbed her. After that, they rifled through the trash cans [for the leaflets]."
Meanwhile, police had also detained Shanghai petitioners Ji Shunying, Wang Shengfang, Zhou Gexin, Guo Longying and Yan Qiu after they tried to distribute leaflets complaining about their treatment at the hands of local government outside the headquarters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Zhongnanhai.
"There were six of us including my mother Guo Longying, and we ... charged into [the front] gate scattering more than 200 leaflets," Shanghai petitioner Hu Jianguo told RFA on Tuesday.
"A police car came rushing over, and they grabbed my mother, and they were craning to read what was on the leaflets," he said.
"Ji Shunying, Yan Qiu, Zhou Gexin and Wang Shengfang took the opportunity to throw some of the other leaflets on the ground," Hu said. "Wang Shengfang also looked the police in the eye and gave them one of her own letters detailing the injustices [she faced]."
He said the group is now being taken back to Shanghai under escort by a group of "interceptors," officials hired by local authorities to remove petitioners from Beijing or other cities, to prevent them from lodging complaints there.
Hu said he and some other petitioners had revisited Zhongnanhai in the early hours of Tuesday morning, to scatter more leaflets.
And a group of around 100 petitioners from the eastern city of Qingdao gathered outside the party's Central Organization Department in a bid to lodge a complaint there.
"More than 100 of us from Qingdao went to the Organization Department today, which doesn't even dare to signal its presence to the world, and we were taken off to the central government complaints department," Qingdao petitioner Gao Hongyi said.
"Things were very busy outside the People's Supreme Procuratorate, and there were a lot of police vehicles from Qingdao there, detaining people," Gao said.
He said the capital was awash with rumors of several attempted suicides by petitioners from Heilongjiang, who jumped into a canal, while another had been talked down from a tall building.
"But I didn't see it myself," Gao said. "I heard they called the rescue services, who saved the people who jumped into the canal."
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Many have been trying to win redress for alleged cases of official wrongdoing, including forced evictions, beatings in custody, and corruption linked to lucrative land sales, for decades.
They converge on Beijing on politically important dates like the fifth plenum, in the hope of boosting publicity for their cause.
But attempted suicides have become increasingly common as petitioners exhaust their options for winning redress for their grievances, and take drastic measures as a last-ditch form of protest.
Earlier this month, Yang Shihe, a petitioner from the northeastern city of Harbin, drank pesticide in an apparent suicide bid outside Zhongnanhai, rights groups said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.