Authorities in the Chinese capital detained and questioned a group of rights activists en route to the U.S. embassy in Beijing to participate in an event marking Human Rights Day on Tuesday, RFA has learned.
Wang Heying and a group of fellow petitioners -- people pursuing complaints against misconduct and rights violations by the ruling Chinese Communist Party -- were detained by police on the street after they registered to attend the event online, Wang said.
"This was a public event bringing friends together, an opportunity for the exchange of views," Wang said. "Everyone else got their invitations by using an invitation code they saw online, and registering with their ID. I was directly invited to participate by a friend."
But the group was stopped by a police patrol en route to the embassy, and taken to a nearby police station for questioning, she said.
"There were more than a dozen people at the police station, all of whom had previously lodged complaints against the government," Wang said.
"All petitioners have their ID cards marked with a special code, so they wouldn't be allowed through if there was an ID check. All we did was to lodge a petition ... and now we're labeled as class enemies. I don't get it."
Meanwhile, state security police in Beijing's Shijingshan district warned Xu Yan, wife of detained rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, not to go out ahead of Human Rights Day on Tuesday.
"They came to my door and told me very forcefully that I mustn't go out," Xu told RFA. "They said the restrictions would be in place for four or five days."
Xu, who recently wrote to the Global Lawyers' Forum in Guangzhou calling on overseas lawyers to call for Yu's release or speedy trial, said she was yelled at and shoved by more than a dozen people who surrounded her later, when she tried to leave her apartment.
China a 'bitterly ironic' host
State media said around 800 delegates from around the world attended the forum, which was hosted by the government-controlled All-China Lawyers' Association.
As it opened on Monday, a group of human rights lawyers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe and the International Bar Association penned an open letter hitting out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party's use of indiscriminate arrest and detention and the forced disappearances of millions of people with no access to legal representation or fair trials.
Guangdong-based rights attorney Sui Muqing said the forum was mostly attended by justice department officials, and that few practicing Chinese attorneys had the opportunity to participate.
"It's just for people who do as the government tells them," Sui said. "Human rights lawyers or people who are slightly critical of the regime can't attend."
He said he has also had restrictions placed on his movements until the forum closes on Tuesday.
Geng He, the U.S.-based wife of disappeared rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, called on Human Rights Day for the world to remember the nationwide crackdown on lawyers, law firms and associated activists that has seen more than 300 people detained, questioned, prevented from leaving the country or their families harassed and denied access to jobs and education since July 2015.
"In China, law firms can be shut down whenever they want, and lawyers can lose their license, or be arrested, disappeared and tortured whenever they feel like it," Geng told RFA.
"It is bitterly ironic that they are holding a lawyers' conference in such a country, and on Human Rights Day, too."
Reported by Gao Feng and Han Jie for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.