The ruling Chinese Communist Party is stepping up controls on dissidents who speak out against changes to the constitution allowing President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely, as authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong placed a rights activist under house arrest for giving interviews to overseas media on the subject.
Guangdong activist Huang Meijuan said she was prevented from leaving home to pick up her child from school on Thursday by state security police.
"They said I had given interviews to the foreign media, and I said 'Why can't I do that?'" Huang told RFA on Friday. "They told me I shouldn't think they wouldn't do anything just because I am a single mother."
"So I asked them what I said [and] they said it was the one in which I talked about the constitutional amendments," she said.
On Sunday, China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), voted to amend the country's constitution to abolish any limits to Xi's term in office.
Criticism of the move has been largely expunged from China's tightly controlled social media platforms, and dissidents who spoke out against it have been targeted by police.
Last week, authorities in the eastern province of Anhui detained former state prosecutor Shen Liangqing on public order charges after he criticized the changes.
Cowed into silence
Huang said many people have been cowed into silence by the government's swift suppression of dissent in the wake of the move, which many fear will take China back to the unpredictable strongman politics of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, or even the imperial dynasties.
Police have also confiscated the ID card of online activist Xiucai Jianghu, telling him to "stay quiet" until the end of March if he wants to get it back.
And justice bureaus across the country have been ordered to warn lawyers, whose business licenses they are able to revoke, not to give interviews to foreign media about the removal of presidential term-limits.
The wife of detained rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who is currently in police detention facing charges of "incitement to subvert state power," said she sometimes fears to speak out about his case in the current climate.
"A lot of people are too scared to speak out right now, including me," Xu Yan told RFA on Friday. "Whenever I do, I always feel very nervous, because things are very serious right now."
"But, as his wife, I think this is my fundamental duty."
Yu has been held since Jan. 19 in connection with online posts deemed critical of the government, and has been denied access to a lawyer or visits from his friends and family.
A series of police raids and detentions linked to the Beijing Fengrui law firm in July 2015 later broadened into a nationwide operation targeting more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, and associated rights activists for detention, professional sanctions, house arrest, and travel bans—including for family members.
Yu had previously acted as defense attorney for one of the detainees, Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado ever since.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party continues to tighten controls on freedom of expression among its citizens, according to a U.S. congressional report published this week.
"The government and [ruling] party continued to prioritize control of the press and media outlets for 'maintaining social and political stability, and in advancing [the party’s] policy goals'," the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in its annual report.
"Moreover, the government has encouraged, and in some cases paid, social media users to post positive comments about the government and party to influence public opinion," it said, citing estimates that some 448 million targeted pro-government comments are posted per year.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.