Authorities across China have detained the father and supporters of a woman who splashed ink on a public poster of President Xi Jinping in recent days, amid a slew of copycat protests that prompted the removal of public images of the president.
Dong Yaoqiong, who hails from the central province of Hunan and used the Twitter handle @feefeefly, streamed the live video of herself splashing ink on the ruling Chinese Communist Party propaganda poster in protest at "authoritarian tyranny."
The video, which was shot on Wednesday morning in Shanghai's Lujiazui district ahead of the commuter rush-hour, shows Dong throwing the ink across Xi's image on the poster and shouting slogans protesting "persecutory brain control," an allegation some activists have said could be linked to attempts to disorient her through psychiatric medication or technology.
Dong disappeared after reporting a number of uniformed men via her Twitter account, which was later shut down and the video deleted.
Her father, Dong Jianbiao, was later detained by state security police after he posted a video to social media identifying himself, while Beijing-based artist Hua Yong was also detained for questioning and later released, possibly under surveillance.
Hua's friend Guo confirmed that he had been released around noon Beijing time on Monday, but hasn't yet been in contact with friends or fellow activists.
"I heard that Hua Yong spoke by video call to his mother ... I think that he is in a relatively free state, but not completely free," Guo said. "I haven't had a call or a WeChat message from him yet, though. It is possible that there are police officers with him."
Hua's whereabouts are currently unknown. Guo said Dong Jianbiao has likely been escorted back to his hometown in the central province of Hunan "because the authorities want the whole thing to quiet down."
"First, they will place Dong Jianbiao and Hua Yong under restrictions, and second, they will limit Hua Yong's online communications, so as to stop him from speaking out," Guo said.
Hua was detained last December as he filmed a protest against the city's government's violent, forced eviction campaign to rid the city of tens of thousands of migrant workers classed as “low-end population” in the wake of a fatal fire in Daxing district last year.
Ji Feng, another friend of Hua's, said the fact that Hua had contacted his family suggested that further proceedings were unlikely for the time being, however.
"If they agreed to a video call with his family, then my guess is that things aren't too serious," Ji said. "But I don't know whether they'll have him under surveillance."
But he said Dong could face repercussions. "Dong is another matter," Ji said.
Sources told RFA that the ruling Chinese Communist Party was extremely nervous about further copycat protests following several reported on social media last week.
Local officials in Hunan's provincial capital Changsha, Beijing and the southern province of Guangdong have all issued notices ordering the removal of public images of President Xi, in an apparent bid to avoid repercussions if they are defaced on their watch, they said.
Posters of Xi on the streets of Changsha have been replaced by posters lauding the "core values" of socialism, but some of these were also splashed by unknown individuals.
On July 12, Xibao branch of Beijing Baoying Property Management Co., Ltd. issued a notice calling on tenants to remove all photos and images of Xi, at the request of the Erlong Road police station, a source said.
However, an employee who answered the phone at the company on Friday declined to comment.
"No we didn't send [such a notice]. I don't know about this," the employee said, before hanging up the phone.
And in Guangdong's Dongguan city, the municipal authorities issued a directive on July 6 requiring the removal of any public posters and billboards depicting "party and state leaders," by July 11.
However, an employee who identified himself as Zhang Xuming of the city government's spiritual civilization committee declined to comment.
"Sorry, I don't really know about that," Zhang said after hearing the identity of the RFA journalist contacting him by phone on Friday.
Dong's allegations came as the United States investigates medical findings that at least 24 of its embassy and consular staff, including at least one in China, have suffered symptoms similar to "minor traumatic brain injury."
The U.S. has set up a task force to identify and treat affected personnel and their family members, and withdrew some diplomatic personnel from China earlier this week, pending further investigation of a possible "sonic attack."
Chinese activists have also reported the use of force-fed psychiatric medication to confuse and disorient peaceful critics of the government.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.