Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong kept a close watch on residents of the rebel village of Wukan as they continued street protests ahead of the trial of one of their former leaders on "corruption" charges, local residents said on Wednesday.
Many local businesses were shut and several thousand protesters marched around the town in what has become a daily ritual in the past 80 days, they said.
But a local resident surnamed Liu said controls were already in place to ensure that the trial of former ruling Chinese Communist Party village secretary Lin Zuluan doesn't become a focus for futher unrest.
"Of course there are tight restrictions," Liu said. "They are only allowing around a dozen family members to go into the court to hear the trial."
"They are also placing restrictions on the villagers, threatening them [not to go] and frightening them," he said.
In a bid to avoid media attention or too much local support, the bribery trial, which is widely regarded by Lin's supporters as a form of retaliation for his role in the protests, is being held in Guangdong's Foshan city, political analysts have told RFA.
Liu said many of Wukan's business had now shut down.
"The fish markets have all closed down, and there are no smaller stores open," he said.
Watched by cameras
Another Wukan resident who asked to remain anonymous said the authorities are able to monitor the village easily using a network of surveillance cameras.
"The whole village is now being watched via CCTV," the resident said. "They have gradually kept on installing [cameras] across the whole village, and the government is telling villagers not to go out on demonstrations."
But he said many villagers would likely slip through the net anyway.
"A lot of local people who are away on business will go to the court,"he said. "Nobody here says they will go ... but I think they all want to go, to show support for Secretary Lin."
"They are just worried by all this surveillance by the authorities."
Canada-based rights activist Yeung Hung, who has followed events in Wukan closely in recent years, said Lin's trial was for show only.
"They are just holding it as an open trial to prevent protests from his family if they do it behind closed doors," Yeung said. "They don't want to see an even bigger backlash."
He said the authorities had likely picked the Chancheng District People's Court in Foshan for its small size.
"They pick a court that is very small, so they can refuse permits to people," Yeung said. "I think we can safely say that this is a show trial."
Calls to the Foshan municipal government offices and the Chancheng district court rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Zhuhai-based activist Zhen Jianghua said he had recently been released after his detention in Wukan.
"I arrived in Wukan on Sept. 3, in the evening, and I was detained at the entrance to the village," Zhen told RFA. "The reason was that I was suspected of incitement to demonstration, assembly, and protest."
"They locked me up in [nearby] Lufeng city for two days," he said. "Then the state security police from Zhuhai came to take me home, where they interrogated me some more, also about suspected incitement to demonstrations."
Zhen said villagers had told him that the authorities' attempt to crack down on public support for Lin was likely to have the opposite effect, however.
In 2011, Wukan's villagers manned barricades to stop police from entering their homes and detaining any more people as the standoff hit world headlines.
Their cause was eventually taken up by Guangdong provincial authorities who overruled local officials in Lufeng, removing party secretary Xue Chang from his post on corruption charges and ordering a one-person, one-vote election for his replacement that was also widely publicized.
But while Lin was made party secretary and several of the 2011 protest leaders were elected as a result, very little was done to retrieve Wukan's lost farmland, villagers said.
Then, in July 2014, former protest leaders Hong Ruichao and Yang Semao, who had both served on the newly elected village committee, were jailed for four and two years respectively for "accepting bribes."
Relatives said the charges against them were trumped up by local officials in an act of political revenge.
Earlier this year, villagers persuaded Lin to mastermind a new land petition campaign, but he was detained before he could launch it, setting renewed street protests in motion.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.