China has continued its crackdown on political dissidents amid ongoing calls for "Jasmine" protests every Sunday to campaign for an end to official corruption and a more open and accountable government.
Police around the country have swooped down on rights activists and civil rights lawyers amid the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East, and have deleted political comment and debate by Chinese netizens.
Beijing-based rights lawyers Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian, and Tang Jingling were detained by police in recent days, along with Sichuan-based activists Ran Yunfei and Chen Wei, rights groups said.
Chen, 42, was detained after police "invited him for a cup of tea" on Sunday morning and returned to search his home, his wife said.
Wuxi-based activist Hua Chunhui went missing on Monday and is believed detained, according to his friend Shen Jun.
"I tried to call Hua Chunhui on [Monday] but couldn't get through," Shen said. "I have a feeling that something's up, because he has never been this way before."
He said Hua had likely been detained as part of a nationwide clampdown.
"It looks like this is a unified crackdown, linked to the unrest in Arab countries," Shen said. "It just goes to show how worried they are, to the point where they can't allow even the slightest bit of movement."
Xiamen-based online activist Peter Guo said his parents had received a visit from national security police in recent days. "I really think they are getting a little bit too nervous," Guo said.
"I haven't really done anything, or been anywhere. I went to see a movie and I had dinner with friends, as well as sending out a few retweets."
"Maybe they are really worried about this Jasmine Revolution."
In public, Chinese officials have ruled out the likelihood of unrest after calls for a “Jasmine Revolution” circulated on the Internet, saying Chinese people have “a common aspiration” for stability and development.
The call for protests in 13 Chinese cities has received little response from the general public so far, but was renewed in an open letter to China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), which opens next month.
"If the government is not sincere about solving the problems, but only wants to censor the Internet and block information to suppress the protests, the protests will simply get stronger," the letter warned.
"As more and more people find out about 'Jasmine rallies,' there will definitely be more and more Chinese people joining in," it said, while calling on people to stroll past central locations in 13 Chinese cities every Sunday at 2 p.m. in a silent call for greater accountability.
"We don’t care if we implement a one-party system, a two-party system, or even a three-party system; but we are resolute in asking the government and the officials to accept supervision by ordinary Chinese people, and we must have an independent judiciary," the letter said.
"We do not support violent revolution; we continue to support nonviolent non-cooperation ... As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear," said the letter, translated by the New York-based rights group Human Rights in China.
Top parliamentarian Zhao Qizheng played down the call for protests on Wednesday.
“I can tell you in clear terms: I am confident that a Jasmine Revolution will not happen in China,” Zhao, spokesperson for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said.
Meanwhile, the authorities were also moving to ban or delete any discussion of the calls for "Jasmine" events.
"They have closed them all," said a user of the popular online chatroom service QQ surnamed Zhang. "They did it around Feb. 22 ... They are still closed. There has been no movement," Zhang said.
One of the chat sessions had 500 participants, while others had attracted 200 or 100 people each, he added.
Those groups that had been closed had featured the most inflammatory words, while more moderately phrased chats had remained undiscovered, he added.
A netizen based in the western province of Gansu confirmed the report.
"A lot of the QQ chat groups that were discussing politics have been closed in the past couple of days," he said.
"One group that I participated in was a super-group of more than 500 people," the user said.
"I really grieve for the Internet [in China]," he added. "It seems as if they are extremely jittery about external events, because they're afraid it will spark a sympathetic reaction here."
'No sense of revolution'
A third netizen said QQ groups are often closed after being infiltrated by police agents posing as participants.
"They have two main methods," he said. "One is that state security police join the chatroom and find out what is being said there, and the other is the automated surveillance system which picks up sensitive words."
Many commentators, even those who support political change such as that espoused by the controversial Charter 08 document that landed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in jail, have expressed surprise at the strength of Beijing's response to the call for Jasmine-related events.
Beijing-based writer Mo Zhixu said he believed the popular mood isn't right in China for a Jasmine Revolution.
"The past two decades of economic development have [reduced] dire poverty," Mo said. "[People] are waiting for reforms, but there is no sense of revolution in mainstream public opinion."
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see and Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.