Police in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have called in at least four would-be independent election candidates for questioning this week, activists said on Tuesday.
Hu Jinqiong was one of a group of 40 political activists seeking nomination in forthcoming district-level parliamentary polls who wrote a protest letter to provincial officials last month.
"The police ... summoned me to talk about our complaint about official harassment of people wanting to take part in National People's Congress (NPC) elections," Hu said.
She said the police had contacted many others who went to the provincial government on Nov. 21.
"There wasn't much in what they said to me, but they said different things to different people," Hu said. "Some of the things they said to other people carried threats."
"They were trying to find out who was behind the protest, because 40 people went that day," she added. "They wanted to know who wrote the complaint letter."
"I told them I wrote it."
The letter complained about widespread official harassment and mistreatment of anyone trying to invoke a clause in China's Election Law allowing candidates to seek nomination if they were supported by the signatures of at least 10 constituents.
The activists said they intended to participate in the election process regardless.
A second activist, Xing Guohui, said she had also received a visit from police.
"They wanted to know who had written the complaint letter," Xing said. "I told them that we as election candidates wanted to represent the people's livelihoods."
She said the government had ignored the activists' application for nomination, however.
"When they held a meeting, it was officials only, and they never even spoke a word to any of us," she said. "They were just talking about how they would arrange everybody."
Xing added: "I don't even want to be an official. I just want to get some clarity about our farmland and our property."
According to the Sichuan-based Tianwang website, six would-be election candidates had reported similar visits from police on Tuesday.
Candidates in the province have complained to Tianwang of kidnappings, severe beatings, and hospitalization at the hands of government-hired thugs, the website said.
The date for polling in Chengdu hasn't yet been set, but more than two million lawmakers at the local levels will be elected in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships through December 2012. The poll is held every five years.
However, officials have warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, and ordered the media not to cover those who seek election outside the ruling Communist Party.
Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.
Elections have already been held elsewhere in China this year, amid complaints of corruption and irregular polling procedures.
Meanwhile, Chengdu-based candidate Chen Qian said she had only just been brought back from Beijing by Sichuan officials after visiting the Supreme People's Court with the candidates' complaint.
"I heard that orders from the central government said they aren't allowed to hire thugs any more, but the Chengdu representative office in Beijing is still using unofficial security guards," she said.
"Those unofficial guards are beating up petitioners ... torturing and mistreating them, and refusing them food or drink or the use of a bathroom," Chen said.
"The petitioners got very angry and called a bunch of people from their hometowns who beat up the hired security guys, injuring some and killing one guy," she said.
"I was told this by one of the security guys in person."
"He said they had no hard feelings for us; they were just beating up people the government told them to beat up."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.