Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have prevented the family of a woman incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital from hiring a lawyer to represent her.
Dong Yaoqiong was sent for "compulsory treatment" after she streamed live video of herself splashing ink on a poster of Chinese president Xi Jinping in a protest at "authoritarian tyranny" on July 4.
She is being held as a psychiatric patient in a women's ward in Hunan's Zhuzhou No. 3 Hospital, where she has been allowed a visit from her mother but not her father, Dong Jianbiao.
Dong Jianbiao had engaged a lawyer to work for his daughter's release from the hospital, but the authorities switched the case against her from a criminal to a civil matter, invalidating the lawyer's letter of appointment, fellow rights activist Ou Biaofeng told RFA.
"I can't get in touch with Dong's father right now," Ou said. "Her mother has been silenced, and doesn't want to cause any more fuss and escalate the situation further."
He said Dong Yaoqiong was likely committed to the Zhuzhou No. 3 Hospital, a mental health institution, by the authorities acting unilaterally,rather than with the approval of relatives.
"Her father tried to visit his daughter at the No. 3 Hospital [on July 22], but I don't think he managed to," Ou said.
Dong Yaoqiong's incarceration on a psychiatric ward comes after she accused the authorities of "persecutory brain control," an allegation some activists have said could be linked to attempts to disorient her through psychiatric medication or even technology.
"There is a portrait of Xi Jinping behind me," she said in the video.
"What I want to say is that I am using my real name to oppose Xi Jinping's tyranny and dictatorship, and the oppressive brain control perpetrated on me by the Chinese Communist Party."
She then threw the ink across Xi's image on the poster and shouted her slogans again.
Dong Yaoqiong, who had reported being under surveillance by the authorities for around a year, later said via her @feefeefly Twitter account that there were uniformed men outside her apartment. Her Twitter account was later deleted.
Her supporter Li Huaping said via Twitter that Dong had been taken away from the hospital briefly on Sunday, possibly for interrogation by the police.
"[On] July 29, Dong Yaoqiong, the woman who splashed ink, was taken away for a period of time from the Zhuzhou No.3 Hospital," Li wrote. "We don't know whether this was for interrogation."
"She was then sent back to the hospital. Visits continued relatively normally, but now they are saying that she is under lock and key and under tighter surveillance than before."
Dong Yaoqiong's protest and a string of copy-cat protests that it inspired have sparked rumors in political circles of a backlash against a growing personality cult around Xi within the ranks of the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership.
Three days after her disappearance on July 5, copies of directives ordering the removal of all public posters of Xi from public places in Shanghai and Beijing began to circulate on WeChat.
Dong Jianbiao was himself later detained by state security police after he posted a video to social media identifying himself as Dong Yaoqiong's father, while Beijing-based artist Hua Yong was also detained for questioning and later released, possibly under surveillance.
'They don't let people vote'
Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong said Dong's protest would never have come about if China had a democratic political system.
"The ink-splashing protest is a form of voicelessness; something that is the result of a lack of ability to vote in elections, and a last resort," Bao said. "They don't let people vote on anything, so they splash ink on something, and you say that they are mentally ill."
"If they can't find a political crime, then they say the person has mental health problems, but being 'mentally illed' like that is actually just another form of repression used to target political prisoners," he said.
U.S.-based rights activist Liu Qing said many people are upset by the granting of an unlimited term in office to President Xi Jinping, but have little way of expressing it.
"The form this protest took indicates dissatisfaction with Xi Jinping's level of political power ... and the turning of the public mood against his Mao-style dictatorship," Liu wrote in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service.
"It gives [those who oppose him] an excuse to remove images ... of Xi that have spread the length and breadth of the land, in the name of preventing such protests," he said.
Reported by Ma Lap-hak and Ng Yik-tung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.