Hundreds of Chinese people with complaints about the ruling Chinese Communist Party have been detained in the capital ahead of the three-day Labor Day weekend after they converged on government buildings in a bid to make their voices heard, activists said on Friday.
"A large number of petitioners are gathered here outside the State Council complaints office, and there are lot of police here trying to get us to leave," a petitioner from Hubei surnamed Lin told RFA on Friday. "They won't let us gather in groups."
"There are more than 40 of us from Hubei, and there are police vehicles parked all along the road," she said. "Once they spot us, they chase us away."
The Labor Day holiday marks the lifting of additional security measures in place in Beijing around the National People's Congress (NPC) annual session in early March, petitioners said.
But interceptors—officials sent by local governments to round up those who complain about them to higher levels of government—were out in force in Beijing and major rail and bus stations across China on Friday, detaining anyone en route to the capital.
"We're really worried that they will take us to Majialou, and then forcibly escort us back home," Lin said, in a reference to one of the large, unofficial detention centers on the outskirts of Beijing, used for holding petitioners who are being escorted back to their hometowns.
"A lot of the people who get forcibly sent home are then taken by local officials to black jails."
The Quanli Yundong rights website reported that Henan petitioner Huo Zhuanqiang was being held at a police station in his hometown of Kaifeng after being forcibly escorted home by interceptors from Majialou.
Zhang Xiangming, the head of the Kaifeng county complaints department, said Huo is being held for "illegal actions."
"The police are taking responsibility for dealing with his illegal actions," Zhang said in an interview on Friday.
"He has broken the law, but the complaints department has no say in how this is dealt with," he said. "Only the police have the power to deal with handling illegal actions."
Asked if it is against Chinese law to visit the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai in Beijing, Zhang replied: "The Xicheng district police have issued an opinion on how to handle it. It's not for us to decide what is against the law."
Meanwhile, Chongqing petitioner Qi Zude said petitioners were playing a constant game of cat and mouse with interceptors on the streets of Beijing.
"I am on the streets all day, because I was forcibly evicted and my home demolished," Qi said. "I have nowhere to sleep, and no home to go to."
He said he had already been detained by interceptors on his way up to Beijing to complain about his forced eviction.
"I was held by some interceptors from the Chongqing municipal government before I got here, and then I was chased by government people as soon as I had got off public transport here in Beijing," Qi said.
"They had sent around a dozen people here from the local government."
Li Min, a petitioner from the southwestern province of Sichuan, said security remained tight in Beijing's diplomatic district as petitioners tried to reach the U.S. Embassy and the United Nations compound on Friday.
"When we were walking past the U.S. Embassy, we were stopped by police, who checked our ID and told us to leave," Li said.
"So then we went to the gates of the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] to enquire, and the police told us they wouldn't detain us during the three days of holidays, but that if we came back on Monday they would," he said.
On Thursday, hundreds of petitioners were detained outside the party's graft-busting agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), Hubei petitioner Wu Lijuan told RFA.
"There were three busloads of people, and another two busloads were taken away in the morning," Wu said.
"They have parked all the buses outside the building, and outside the gates of Jiujingzhuang [detention center]," she said.
Hebei petitioner Wei Yuzhuo spoke to RFA on Thursday from inside the Majialou detention center after being detained near Tiananmen Square.
She had earlier been detained outside the CCDI and released from Jiujingzhuang on Wednesday, she said.
China's "letters and visits" complaints system is flooded with some 22,000 new complaints daily across the country, according to government figures from 2013.
Petitioners have complained that the courts are increasingly refusing to take such cases, while new rules forbid them from seeking to complain to higher levels of government.
In March, the Supreme People's Court in Beijing announced a slew of reforms to China's judicial system in a bid to prevent political interference in court decisions.
But legal experts said the move was an attempt to treat the symptoms, rather than a cure.
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.