Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have stepped up political pressure on two prominent current affairs commentators amid a nationwide crackdown on dissent ahead of a five-yearly congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Guangzhou-based commentator Li Fei said his employer terminated his contract following a visit by state security police on Monday, without giving a detailed reason.
But he said the topic of his online commentaries was likely a factor.
"I mostly write columns on topics touching on freedom, democracy, human rights, and constitutional government," Li said. "Under the machinery of state oppression, individuals and even companies are pretty powerless."
"The space for freedom of expression is getting smaller and smaller nowadays," Li told RFA after being fired. "Lots of commentators, whether they be big tweeters with large followings, or dissidents, or newsmakers, are being targeted."
"The political persecution that I have suffered today doesn't surprise me ... Also it makes me feel bad to think about [the threats issued to] my company, which is why I accepted their decision to terminate me," he said.
Li said he doesn't expect to be able to find another job in today's political climate.
"It's pretty hard for certain groups to find a job at all in mainland China, so for me to lose the one I hard is a massive problem, in terms of how I manage from here on in," he said.
"I think it's likely that my next job will have a similar outcome," he said.
Repeated calls to police in Li's home district of Baiyun rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in Guangdong's Huizhou city, current affairs commentator Li Huizhi said he had recently been forced to return to his hometown by state security police, despite of living and working in Shenzhen.
"After I was brought back here, I was interrogated for five hours straight," Li Huizhi told RFA. "The state security police are now watching me, every minute of every day, and they deleted around 900 of my tweets on Twitter."
"Now my Twitter account is in their hands, so I can't even log on," he said.
Li said the government appears to be targeting anyone even slightly influential.
"Basically, anyone with any influence is being silenced; they are not being allowed to post online," he said. "I haven't been able to write a column for the past four months now."
No critical voices
As the ruling Chinese Communist Party gears up for its national congress on Oct. 18, President Xi Jinping is taking far-reaching steps to ensure that no critical voices are raised against him, analysts said.
The campaign is in keeping with "the spirit of the Communist Party's Central Committee, and a way of producing a breakthrough in the limitations of the system and of ideological work," analysts say.
Speculation is mounting that Xi plans to have his own version of political ideology enshrined in the ruling party's constitution, massively boosting his personal status to a level not seen since the era of late supreme leaders Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.
Members of the Communist Party have also been warned in clear terms to stay away from the "wrong words" online, which it defines as anything that departs from the official line.
Li Fei said state security police are very keen to prevent anyone from speaking to foreign media organizations.
"But I'm not going to make any concessions or compromises," he said.
"The authorities will use various means to suppress me, and maybe some people will be cowed, but at the same time, many more will keep on standing up and speaking out."
Former Anhui state prosecutor Shen Liangqing said he has also been targeted by police lately for giving interviews to overseas media outlets.
"I have been targeted because of interviews I have given to overseas media, including Radio Free Asia," Shen said. "This country will only tolerate support; it won't tolerate opposition or dissent of any kind."
"It has always targeted dissidents ... but sometimes it gets worse than at other times," he said. "It does seem to have gotten worse in the past few years."
"But I will still carry on saying what I want to say," he said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.