Hundreds of residents of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have lodged a formal complaint with the local government over the detention of an independent candidate in local parliamentary elections, her lawyers said.
Nine hundred voters from the Rongli electoral district of Guangdong's Foshan city have signed an open letter to the Shunde electoral committee, which administers their area, calling on them to declare the election results null and void because of "illegalities."
They cited the detention by the authorities of Rongli district independent candidate Li Biyun on charges of violating electoral law.
According to Wang Quanping, a member of her legal team, Li, who had her electoral qualifications stripped by the authorities, is currently in hospital after a suspected beating at the hands of security forces.
"Her internal injuries haven't been properly treated," Wang said in an interview on Monday. "When I saw her, she was coughing very violently, and she seemed very sick, and exhausted."
"I told her a bit about the current situation, and I also told her that 900 people had signed a petition to complain that the election had been illegally conducted," he said.
"When she heard that, she smiled a bit," Wang said.
Chinese authorities have moved in recent weeks to block election bids by independent candidates across the country, holding many of them under house arrest and tight surveillance amid nationwide elections to district and township-level legislatures or People's Congresses.
The attempt to field ordinary citizens to run against Communist Party-backed candidates, who are not used to serious political opposition, has spread across China this year, with activists coordinating their attempts online, campaigning on each other's behalf, and trading advice and tips.
Li is currently being held under formal detention at the People's Armed Police Hospital in the provincial capital, Guangzhou.
A second lawyer helping with the case, Li Zhiyong, said this was the first time he had seen such a large protest by voters themselves in what is commonly a lacklustre electoral race between official candidates for the local-level National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament.
He called on the authorities to consider bailing Li out on medical and humanitarian grounds.
"This is the first time I have come across a case related to an election of this kind," Li Zhiyong said. "We hardly ever see this sort of election-related legal case in China."
"One of our main aims is to secure bail, because Li Biyun is in a poor state of health."
An employee who answered the phone at the Shunde district election committee denied it had received any such complaint letter.
However, he was overheard telling a colleague while the line was still open: "There is a reporter from Hong Kong asking about the Rongli affair. Perhaps someone has sent the documents to the Hong Kong media."
"How should we deal with this?" the employee asked his colleague.
When he returned to the phone, he told RFA, "So far we haven't received anything regarding the complaint you mention. I will ask the complaints office if we have received such a thing."
"If there has been such a complaint, we will deal with it according to law," he said.
Calls to the Shunde complaints office phone number supplied by the election committee employee went unanswered during office hours on Monday.
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 hoping to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.
Some of the candidates come from the least privileged groups in society, including those who have been forcibly evicted from their homes, or who have long campaigned for their legal rights.
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 through December of next year.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.