Authorities in Beijing have tightened security around a group of civil rights lawyers who met to discuss the plight of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, currently held under house arrest with his whole family in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong.
The group of more than 20 public interest lawyers was to have included Teng Biao, Xu Zhiyong, Jiang Tianyong, Li Heping, Li Xiongbin and Tang Jitian, Teng said.
He added that Jiang and Tang were taken to the police station after they attended a meal to discuss Chen's plight, and that Jiang had reported by text message that he was mishandled by police.
"The message said that they grabbed his collar with great force for a long period of time, nearly strangling him," Teng said.
"They also pushed him backwards with such force that the back of his head hit the wall," he added.
Teng said national security police had kept the lawyers under such tight surveillance in recent days that they had called off the trip and met for the meal together to discuss ways to help Chen.
Repeated calls to Jiang and Tang's cell phones met with a recorded message saying their phones had been turned off on Tuesday.
Calls to Li, Xu and Li also went unanswered.
Meanwhile, activists using the microblogging service Twitter said they had all been placed under surveillance when the trip was being planned, even though they had not attended the meal.
Among those reporting additional surveillance were Mo Zhixu and "Stainless Steel Mouse" Liu Di.
The United States has expressed concern about the continuing house arrest of Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing with the couple's two children.
A U.S. State Department spokesman called on the Chinese government to immediately restore the personal liberties, including freedom of movement, of Chen and his family.
Meanwhile, a number of foreign reporters said they had been roughed up after they tried to get to Chen's home.
Brice Pedroletti, a journalist with French newspaper Le Monde, and Stephane Lagarde, a journalist with Radio France Internationale, said they were pushed away by around a dozen male thugs in Chen's hometown of Dongshigu in Shandong's Yinan county.
Lagarde said he was threatened with a brick and his journalist's credential and digital recorder memory card were taken from him.
A New York Times journalist and photographer were also involved in an incident, a spokeswoman for the U.S. newspaper said, but declined to give further details.
In response, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) has warned its members about possible violent attacks if they try to cover Chen's case.
"In recent days several correspondents have encountered groups of violent, plainclothes thugs," it said in a statement.
"Since being told about the incidents, the police appear to have done nothing to rectify the situation or rein in these groups of thugs," it said.
House arrest conditions
Local authorities in China severely beat Chen and Yuan after they released a video detailing the harsh conditions of their life under house arrest, rights groups said last week.
Chen, 38, has been confined to his home since his release at the end of a jail term of four years and three months for “damaging public property and obstructing traffic” handed down by the Linyi municipal court in August 2006.
Chen, a self-taught lawyer, had exposed abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations by local family planning officials under China’s draconian population-control policies.
He had served the full jail term in spite of repeated requests for medical parole.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Ding Xiao for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.