Authorities in Beijing have detained four activists on suspicion of "unlawful assembly" after they called on top officials to reveal details of their wealth.
Yuan Dong, Zhang Baocheng, Hou Xin, and Ma Xinli were taken to a police station in the busy Xidan shopping district of Beijing after they staged a public protest calling on officials to disclose details of their assets, activists said on Tuesday.
"We went to the police station [on Monday] to try to get them released, because the authorities must tell us what is happening within 24 hours [of detaining them]," said the wife of Yuan Dong, one of the detained activists, who gave only her surname Zhu.
"They told me that Yuan Dong is under suspicion of illegal assembly, and has been criminally detained."
Yuan and three others had displayed banners which read "Officials, declare your wealth," and "The China dream must be a daylight dream,"
in a reference to growing calls for a "sunshine law" which has yet to be commented on publicly by the leadership.
Large crowd drawn
Rights activist Zhang Shun said he had seen Sunday's protest, which drew a crowd of around 200 onlookers.
He said around 20 police and security guards dragged the activists away and dispersed the crowd.
"From what I could see, they didn't put up any sort of struggle or resistance," Zhang Shun said. "The police said they were compelling them to come to the police station."
Xidan, a busy shopping and business district a short distance from the headquarters of the Chinese leadership in Zhongnanhai, is no stranger to public protest. In 1978, it was the scene of a wave of publicly posted petitions and complaints that grew into the Democracy Wall movement.
Sunday's detentions come amid a growing public campaign to pressure top officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to make public the details of their family wealth.
In December, more than 2,000 people took to the streets of Shanghai, marching along a main road in the downtown district and calling on officials to publicize details of their assets, income, and investments, as well as those of their spouses and children.
Prominent political activists including Beijing-based Hu Jia, Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Guo Feixiong, and literature professor and filmmaker Ai Xiaoming, have also signed a petition in favor of a "sunshine law" in response to an anti-corruption campaign launched by president Xi Jinping at last year's 18th Party Congress.
"[The leadership], including Xi Jinping, is always talking about having officials declare their assets, but they're all talk and no action," Zhu said.
"And now that we citizens have taken this action, the police crack down on us," she said. "We didn't do anything destructive or violent; we just wanted to speak out."
Online transparency campaigner Sun Hanhui said a number of rights lawyers have offered to defend the activists.
"Some lawyers have already agreed to represent and defend the case this morning," Sun, who works in a law firm, said on Tuesday. "They are putting together a legal team, and eventually they will announce it."
He said the activists should enjoy the right to freedom of expression under China's Constitution.
"Their demands, for a system under which high-ranking officials declare their assets, were constitutional," Sun said. "The Constitution says that citizens have the right to criticize and make suggestions to government."
"Their actions were entirely legal and reasonable," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie