Authorities in the Chinese capital on Friday released from police detention two elderly petitioners who staged a naked protest on Tiananmen Square, although relatives said they were on their way back home under escort by local officials, known as interceptors.
Xing Jiaying and He Zeying from Xinyang city in the central province of Henan were detained on May 25 on a seven-day administrative jail term for "disturbing public order" after they staged the protest along with one other petitioner from their hometown.
"We took off all our clothes and protested on Tiananmen Square about injustices we have suffered," He said.
"We were surrounded by a large number of police officers and taken to the Tiananmen branch police station," she said, adding that she and Xing had been roughly treated during their days in detention.
"I don't know yet whether we can go straight home," she said. But she gave no details of the third protester, who is believed to have escaped detention at the time.
The two women and their male relative—He's son-in-law and Xing's son—were met by interceptors from their hometown on Friday and escorted home, He told RFA.
"I have been in detention for the past few days," she said by phone on her way back to Henan under the escort of four police officers. "They said I was disturbing public order on the Square."
"Now we are out. We were released by police officers from Xi county [under the administration of Xinyang city]," she said.
He's son-in-law Xing Wangli, known online by his nickname Wu Quanli, a pun on "powerless," said the women were protesting at a lack of compensation or redress after Xing's grandson was involved in a traffic accident.
"The family has been petitioning for a long time, but they have been subjected to revenge attacks by the government," he said.
He said the authorities had organized a student protest against him in Xi county on Thursday, for allowing his mother to shed her clothes on Tiananmen Square.
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, whose Tianwang website first reported the incident, said he had been contacted by officials and told to delete the original news story from his site.
"A guy calling himself the head of the Xi county chamber of commerce called up and ... said Tianwang should delete the report," Huang said.
"They said they would give Wu Quanli 500,000 yuan (U.S. $80,000) and three mu (one-half acre) of land near his home at [a discounted price]," he said.
Huang said he had refused the takedown request, however.
"Tianwang hasn't deleted a post in 16 years, even when there is a risk of going to jail," he said.
Faced with thousands of complaints about its officials every day, China recently moved to ban its citizens from taking petitions directly to the central government without first going through local authorities.
From May 1, departments at higher levels of the central government have refused to accept petitions that bypass the local government and its immediate superiors, and have rejected petitions deemed to be the preserve of the judiciary or legislative bodies.
Beijing has repeatedly tried to stem the flood of thousands of petitioners who descend on the capital with complaints, often ahead of key political events, when petitioners hope their cases will get a more sympathetic hearing.
Next week, activists will mark the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square.
Petitioners say corrupt networks of power and influence at local levels ensure that a fair hearing is all but impossible, and that they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in "black jails," beaten, and harassed by local authorities if they try to take complaints to the top.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.