Activists from across China converged on the eastern city of Suzhou on Tuesday to commemorate the execution of a Mao-era political dissident, only to be forced out of their guesthouses by police.
More than 100 activists from Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Hunan provinces arrived in the city ahead of Wednesday's 47th anniversary of Lin Zhao's execution for alleged counterrevolutionary crimes under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
They had planned to hold a memorial event at the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery, the site of Lin's tomb, Hunan-based rights activist Zhu Chengzhi told RFA.
But some, including Jia Pin, Wang Liang, Xu Shaohua, and Xing Ba, had been forced to give up their rooms after police put pressure on the owners, Zhu said.
Police have also cordoned off the area around the Lingyan Shan cemetery in a bid to prevent the event taking place, he said.
"I checked into a small guesthouse today called the Yilian Guesthouse, but the local police have put pressure on the owner, who asked us to leave," Zhu said.
"This is directly a result of the police, who are forcing us to leave."
Zhu said six activists staying there had been told to leave by police and municipal government officials.
"They said this guesthouse wasn't convenient for us, and that we should find somewhere else to stay," he said.
"Near the graveyard, there are a number of unmarked cars parked around and about, and a number of tough-looking guys in plainclothes, standing and wandering around," Zhu said.
Police at cemetery
Fellow activist Wang Liang, speaking from a vantage point near the trail head leading up to the cemetery, said two groups of police had arrived there on Tuesday morning.
"It's hard to see their exact identities," he said, adding that he had also been asked to leave his guesthouse.
"The guesthouse owner said he had no choice but to refund our money [and ask us to leave]," Wang said.
"He said if we didn't leave, that it would cause even more problems for the guesthouse, and affect its business," he said.
"More than 100 of us came here from across China, including Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Beijing, among other places," Wang said.
"I saw some postings about Lin Zhao online, from earlier in the history of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party," Wang said.
"We have all come of our own accord to pay respects to a martyr who stood up to an absolute authoritarian power," he said.
Guangdong-based activist Jia Pin said he had also been kicked out of his guesthouse by the manager on Tuesday morning.
"Of course it has to do with the Lin Zhao memorial," Jia said. "The state security police were already there when I checked in, and then the manager came to find us around noon and said we couldn't stay there."
He said police have repeatedly interfered with anyone seeking to visit Lin's tomb.
"In previous years we have had guesthouses kick people out, and sometimes they even detain people at the cemetery, or catch them at the bus or train stations," Jia said.
"We are all psychologically prepared for that," he said.
While it was unclear whether the activists from out of town would be allowed to attend, some local people said they would go ahead with a commemoration of Lin Zhao under close police supervision.
"I was sent as a representative of the local people to talk to the state security police leaders," Suzhou high school teacher Pan Lu told RFA.
"We all hope that there will be an orderly wreath-laying ceremony under police protection and supervision, within the framework of the law," Pan said. "There are to be no banners or placards."
Pan said she had had "no news" of the activists who had traveled in from out of town and had been forced to leave their accommodation, however.
Three Guangzhou-baseed rights lawyers, Tang Jingling, Wang Qingying, and Yuan Xinting are currently facing trial on subversion charges after being accused of commemorating Lin's death, as well as marking the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square military crackdown and other activist campaigns.
Tang, Wang, and Yuan were criminally detained on May 16, initially for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," but the charges were later changed to the more serious "incitement to subvert state power."
Lin Zhao is the pen name of Peng Lingzhao, a writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
A star student at the prestigious Beijing University's Chinese language department in 1954, Lin worked for student poetry publication "Red Mansion."
Lin was branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in 1957 for her criticism of then supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.
She then went on to publicly defend army general Peng Dehuai's criticism of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), during which tens of millions are believed to have starved to death.
Initially detained on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Lin was later handed a 20-year jail term for "counterrevolution."
She was subjected to brutal torture while in jail, but continued to write until her pen and paper were taken away in September 1964, after which she wrote poems and essays on the walls and bedding using a hairpin dipped in her own blood.
She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36 after her sentence was changed to the death penalty because she refused to plead guilty.
She had previously written a message in her own blood, which read: "History will declare that I am innocent."
Her mother and sister knew nothing of the execution until police visited the family two days later, demanding payment for the bullets used to kill her.
Lin's treatment at the hands of the state was believed to have led to the suicide of both parents, at different times. She has a surviving sister who lives in the United States.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.