A Beijing woman has become the first person in the city not endorsed by the ruling Communist Party to win nomination as a district-level election candidate, as the Chinese capital gears up for local parliamentary polls.
"In the past few days I have been harassed, kept under surveillance, and put under pressure to withdraw from the elections," Han Ying said in an interview after her nomination was announced.
"I have had my cell phone taken from me, been illegally searched, illegally detained and forced to have 'chats' in the middle of the night ... They have watched everything I've done," Han said.
Dozens of political activists across China have joined the campaign to file applications to stand for the elections, in spite of official warnings that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.
Official media have said that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the district-level congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
However, activists are seeking to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.
Act 'within the law'
Han said she had acted entirely within the law, and within China's Constitution.
"When I handed out leaflets on the streets, it was simply to encourage people to cast their vote in elections," Han said.
"I am not afraid of oppression. I haven't broken any laws, and everything I did was for the good of my country, to boost awareness of the elections among its citizens," she said.
Han's nomination was finalized as part of a list of 21 candidates for parliamentary elections in her home district of Haidian.
She was the only independent of 13 known Beijing election hopefuls to win a place on the official list of candidates, although she is still potentially vulnerable to official harassment.
Last month, a farmer from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong scored a landslide victory in elections to his district-level parliament after campaigning against forced land sales, but the government didn't endorse the result, placing him instead under round-the-clock police surveillance.
Held through deadline
Meanwhile, authorities in the southwestern province of Guizhou on Wednesday released political activist Chen Xi, who had attempted to win nomination in district-level parliamentary polls in the provincial capital, Guiyang.
Chen said he had been detained by police, held incommunicado at a vocational training center, and released only after the deadline for nomination had passed.
"It's too late now for me to take part in the parliamentary elections," Chen said. "Elections in China are still a long way from being democratic."
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels will be elected during nationwide elections, held every five years, in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7, 2011 through December 2012.
Some Chinese pro-democracy campaigners in exile have held up Taiwan as a model for democratization on the mainland.
The Tangwai movement during the mid-1970s and early 1980s in Taiwan challenged the rule of the Kuomintang with the election of independent, or "outside the Party," candidates to the island's legislature.
The movement paved the way for much wider democratization in the 1990s, and many political activists of the day were also subjected to police harassment and imprisonment.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.