The ruling Chinese Communist Party has stepped up nationwide security measures targeting people pursuing complaints and long-running grievances, intercepting petitioners en route to the capital, and sending those who arrive there back home, ahead of its annual parliamentary sessions this week.
As 5,130 delegates, 153 of whom are listed the Hurun Report as "super-rich," headed to Beijing for the National People's Congress (NPC) and its advisory body the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), police were waiting with additional patrols and checkpoints to stop anyone with a complaint from getting into the capital.
Guizhou petitioner Huang Qihong said he was detained while going through a police security checkpoint at Beijing railway station and taken alongside fellow petitioners to an unofficial detention center at Jiujingzhuang on the outskirts of the capital.
"We were in Jiujingzhuang for an hour or more, until officials from our local government came to collect us," Huang told RFA. "An official surnamed Yang from the Guanling county police department took us to a guesthouse, and he had six or seven unofficial security guards with him."
"They took us there, and then they confiscated everything we had on our persons," Huang said. "Then they dragged us onto a minibus. Somebody was pulling on my neck from behind."
"Once we were on the bus they, they beat me around the head and grabbed my neck," he said. "It still hurts when I swallow."
Huang said the petitioners were taken straight to the local police station when they arrived back in Guanling county, where some were locked up again, including his brother, who received a 15-day administrative sentence, the maximum term that can be handed down by police without a trial.
A petitioner from the northeastern province of Liaoning, Li Ping, was also detained en route to the capital to file complaints.
Police in Liaoning's provincial capital Shenyang detained several more petitioners on Friday, Beijing petitioner Xu Chongyang told RFA.
"Not so long ago, an order went out to all administrative and judicial and law enforcement departments nationwide, calling on them to step up patrols and surveillance," Xu said.
"Security is a whole lot tighter than it has been in the past," he said.
Meanwhile, Chongqing petitioner Li Qun said guesthouses and hostels in Beijing have been ordered not to rent rooms to petitioners.
"The managers of guesthouses in Beijing, particularly the smaller ones, basically won't let petitioners stay in them any more," Li said.
"Security has been exceptionally tight in Beijing, and there are ticket checks at all of the railway stations targeting petitioners," she said.
Li said there is a much stronger presence of security personnel -- known as "interceptors" -- hired by local governments to bring back anyone who travels elsewhere to complain about local officials.
Authorities in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing also detained a group of people as they prepared to head to Beijing ahead of the parliamentary sessions, activists told RFA.
Beatings, harassment and extrajudicial detention
Petitioners Xiao Jianfang, Fu Shuqing and Guo Xingmei were among those detained en route to Beijing, while a fourth petitioner, Tang Yunshu, is currently incommunicado.
China's army of petitioners say they are routinely targeted for beatings, harassment and extrajudicial detention, including in pyschiatric facilties, if they persist in their complaints.
Guo had recently signed a letter of complaint to the Chongqing authorities over enforced psychiatric detention for petitioners.
She told RFA at the time: "Things weren't as serious before, but last year the Chongqing authorities started carrying out psychiatric diagnostic tests on people in detention."
The state prosecutor has tried to crack down on the inappropriate use of psychiatric treatment, citing "loopholes," and prosecutors should turn down cases where people are committed to mental health hospitals without any sign of risk to themselves or society.
Guangzhou-based rights activist Liang Songqi, who recently tracked down a fellow activist incarcerated with no sign of mental illness, said the order was unlikely to have much impact on the ground, however.
"Right now I can't see any indication that this order is being effectively implemented," Liang told RFA.
The CPPCC opened in Beijing on Sunday, and the NPC on Monday.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.