Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Thursday detained around a dozen friends of outspoken rights activist Li Biyun after they tried to visit her home in Shunde city.
Guangzhou-based rights activist Guo Chunping, who was among the group who tried to visit Li, said the group had been detained outside the gates of the residential compound where the activist lives.
"We hadn't even reached her home ... when we saw around 100 plainclothes officers," Guo, who was detained in a local police station at the time of the interview, told RFA.
"They surrounded us and then they wouldn't let us go inside," he said. "They forced us into a minibus and brought us to the police station in Ronggui New Village, Shunde."
"I think they know very well that Li Biyun made an online invitation to all her friends to join her for dinner," Guo said.
Guo said police were busy checking the ID cards of Li's friends and supporters inside the police station at the time of the interview.
"They gave no reason; they just grabbed us and brought us here," he said. "It was like a kidnapping."
He said police had initially refused to release the group, in spite of vocal protests that they weren't suspected of any crime.
"The authorities here in Shunde are very nervous; that's the way they think," he said.
However, lawyer Wang Quanping, who was among those detained, said they were released gradually later on Thursday.
Still being watched
Li said her apartment was still being watched by around a dozen police officers later on Thursday after the detentions.
"At most sometimes there are several hundred people out there," said Li, who was recently admitted to hospital after being dumped at the side of a road from a moving vehicle on her release from detention on Dec. 19.
A Shunde court had found Li guilty of "obstructing civic duties" on that date, but then sentenced her to the amount of time she had already been held, releasing her on the same day.
Li, 47, who has already alleged torture at the hands of prison guards and police, was later admitted to Guangzhou's Fangcun Charity Hospital after collapsing and losing consciousness several times since her violent release.
She has since been coughing up blood, and is unable to walk due to leg injuries sustained during her "release" from detention, her sister told RFA last month.
Li, who has been targeted by the authorities since she tried to stand as a candidate in local elections in 2011, said she doesn't understand why she is being targeted.
"I haven't committed any crime; I am a law-abiding citizen," she said.
"Why do they attack me, obstruct my attempts to seek medical attention, obstruct my attempts to do anything at all?"
'Nobody can get through'
Li's brother Li Tianqiang said the group had been detained by "more than 100 unidentified personnel."
"They are monitoring our phone calls, so nobody can get through, and we can't call out," he said.
"[The whole group] was put on a bus, including some lawyers and journalists, and taken away."
Wang Quanping said following his release that those detaining him had refused to answer repeated questions about the reason for their detention.
"When I got there, I drove straight into the compound, but some people had already been shoved onto the minibus," Wang said. "Then I heard Li Biyun shouting that my assistant had been detained."
"I ran out there, and was stopped by people in plainclothes and put on the bus," he said.
Wang said he would file a complaint against the Shunde police department.
"I will definitely complain to Shunde police about the abuse of their powers," he said. "There was no basis for this."
"Going to a friend's house for dinner is a normal social interaction."
Li's defense lawyer Liu Hao said at the time of her trial that she had presented a detailed account of the alleged torture she suffered at the hands of detention center guards in July during her trial, but to no avail.
In 2011, Li joined dozens of political activists across China in a campaign to file applications to stand for election to district-level National People's Congress (NPC) bodies, in spite of official warnings that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.
Li's candidacy enjoyed widespread popular support after her earlier advocacy work on behalf of local residents whose farmland had been sold off by local government for development.
Activists tried to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.
Many of the candidates, like Li, hailed from the least privileged groups in Chinese society, including those who have been forcibly evicted from their homes or who have long campaigned for their legal rights.
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.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.