Authorities in Beijing on Wednesday detained hundreds of activists after they gathered outside United Nations offices and other major buildings in Beijing, calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to uphold human rights.
Petitioners and rights activists converged on United Nations offices, national complaints offices, and other landmarks on Wednesday in a bid to highlight human rights violations by the government and law enforcement.
Others arrived at Tiananmen Square, or handed out leaflets on public transportation calling on the government to respect protection for human rights enshrined in China's constitution.
All were detained by police and taken to Jiujingzhuang, an extrajudicial detention center on the outskirts of Beijing, they told RFA.
Yu Nanzhe, a petitioner from the eastern province of Jiangsu, said he had arrived outside U.N. headquarters in Liangmahe in the early morning.
"There were so many police at Liangmahe," Yu said. "They were waiting for us as soon as we came up out of the subway."
"They grabbed us by the arm and shoved us onto the bus and took us to Jiujingzhuang," he said. "There was one bus after another coming in to Jiujingzhuang, all packed with people."
Yu said he had personally counted 29 buses, each of which can carry 40 to 50 people.
"There were at least a few thousand people [brought here on buses today]," he said. "They were pretty much all of them petitioners."
"I was brought to the front gate of Jiujingzhuang at about 11.00 a.m., and I had to line up until about 2.00 p.m. before I got inside," he said.
'The only option left'
A second detained petitioner from Jilin, Zhang Jixin, said all the petitioners had turned out in force to mark Human Rights Day.
"We thought we would go to a global human rights organization on World Human Rights Day," Zhang said in an interview from Jiujingzhuang.
"It seemed the only option left to us."
He said he too was rapidly detained on exiting the subway station. "I didn't even get as far as the footbridge, when a large number of police stopped me from going any further," Zhang said.
"I told them ... my right to due legal process has already been taken away from me within my own country, so I wanted to appeal to an international court," he said.
"We may be petitioners, but we are patriotic, and we just want justice in our country, and the rule of law," Zhang added. "We knew it was a dangerous option."
"The police told me it didn't matter what I was doing, that I had to get on the bus, and then they brought us to Jiujingzhuang."
Army of petitioners
China's army of petitioners pursue complaints about the government, often for decades and in the face of extrajudicial detentions in "black jails," physical abuse, and other forms of mistreatment.
They say they are increasingly stonewalled by the country's courts, and instead flood the government's "letters and visits" petitioning system with more than 20,000 new complaints a day, according to figures released in November 2013.
According to the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website, more than 500 people were detained by police outside the U.N. compound in Beijing on Wednesday.
It said more than a dozen petitioners were also detained on Tiananmen Square and taken to the nearby police station.
In 1950, the U.N. General Assembly announced Dec. 10 would be Human Rights Day, in a bid to promote its Universal Declaration of Human Rights to "the peoples of the world" as a common standard.
In a statement on the official U.N. website on Wednesday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on member states around the world to honor their obligations to their citizens.
"Violations of human rights are more than personal tragedies. They are alarm bells that may warn of a much bigger crisis," Ban said.
"We are rallying in response to violations – before they degenerate into mass atrocities or war crimes."
"I call on people to hold their governments to account. And I call for special protections for the human rights defenders who courageously serve our collective cause," he said.
China slams U.S.
China's official media meanwhile hit back at U.S. criticism of its rights record on Wednesday, citing the response to the recent shooting of black Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and a report detailing the use of torture by the CIA.
"America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries," the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.
"As a developing country, China is in the process of ensuring its citizens have access to the constitutional and social rights to ensure development," the article said.
"Part of this developmental process is the acknowledgement and understanding of its own human rights issues."
Chinese rights lawyer Chen Yong said human rights protection still depends on the political will to enforce the country's existing laws.
"It's pretty plain to see whether China's human rights record is good or bad; we all know it in our bones," Chen said, adding that China has no shortage of admirable legal principles and good legislation.
"China doesn't need more laws and regulations; it needs to enforce the ones it has," he said."Only then can we improve our human rights record."
Prisoners of conscience
Two campaign groups on Wednesday published a joint list of 83 Chinese citizens who are currently serving jail time for peacefully expressing their political opinions.
The Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, together with rights defenders site Weiquanwang, published a list of profiles of China's prisoners of conscience, which includes jailed 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and 27 others indicted on charges linked to his "Charter 08" political reform document.
The groups said the administration of President Xi Jinping has implemented a far-reaching and severe crackdown on citizens and social activists since it took power in November 2012.
Citizens continue to be detained for participating in the anti-graft New Citizens' Movement, in the street demonstrations for press freedom outside Guangzhou's Southern Weekend newspaper group in January 2013, for supporting the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and for commemorating the 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown, the groups said.
It said pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders, lawyers, NGO workers, journalists, and public intellectuals have all been targeted.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the crackdown had begun as early as the first year of Xi's presidency.
"We already realized this was going to go much further than the administration of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao had done in the previous 10 years," Hu Jia said.
"And the arrests have been coming thick and fast in the past two months of this year, especially since the beginning of Occupy Central in Hong Kong on Sept. 28," he said.
"What's more, they aren't allowing them to meet with their lawyers."
In Hong Kong, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Nobel laureate Liu is currently writing a book while serving his prison sentence in Jinzhou Prison in northeast China's Liaoning province.
But the authorities have made it clear he won't be able to take the manuscript with him on his release, the center said in a statement.
Liu, 58, a literary critic and former professor, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" in a decision that infuriated Beijing.
His wife Liu Xia, 55, remains incommunicado and under strict house arrest at the couple's home in Beijing, where she has been held since her husband's award was announced.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.