Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained five prominent rights activists on public order charges, as the government continues its crackdown on dissent ahead of the sensitive 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, lawyers said on Thursday.
Guangdong activists Xie Wenfei, Luo Xiangyang, Zhang Wanhe, Yang Sui and Wu Bin were taken away from their homes by police beginning on April 29, and later placed under criminal detention for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," Luo's lawyer Wu Kuiming said.
"[Luo and Zhang] were taken away from their homes," Wu said. "[Police] said they had been to eat [with fellow activists] in Guangzhou."
"They also said there were various other things they'd done in the past."
Wu said he thought the arrests were linked to next month's politically sensitive anniversary.
"I'm guessing they are locking them up because it's nearly June 4," he said.
Xie Wenfei's lawyer Liu Zhengqing said his client had been placed under criminal detention on May 5, but hasn't yet been granted a meeting with his lawyer.
"The police showed Xie Wenfei some photos and asked him about the memorials for [executed Mao era dissident] Lin Zhao and for Cao Shunli," he said.
Chinese authorities have placed a number of rights activists under house arrest after they protested over Cao's March 14 death, which came after she was refused medical treatment for months while in detention, her supporters and lawyers said.
Xie was also asked about previous visits to Beijing, and to the eastern city of Suzhou, Liu said.
"He didn't go to Suzhou or to Beijing this year," he told RFA. "So it's a bit of a mystery why they have detained Xie Wenfei. I think the authorities just want them off the streets ahead of [June 4]."
Liu said he believed the charges against Xie had no basis in reality.
"If they want to arrest you, they'll find something to charge you with," he said.
String of charges
The detentions are the latest in a string of similar charges against activists and journalists widely regarded as moderately critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Earlier this month, authorities in Beijing placed outspoken veteran journalist Gao Yu under criminal detention on charges of leaking state secrets, while freelance journalist Xiang Nanfu was criminally detained for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after he contributed sensitive stories to the overseas-based Boxun news website.
Authorities have also detained a group of lawyers, academics and journalists who called for a reappraisal of the Tiananmen Square bloodshed crackdown, and continued to tighten controls on dissent, free speech and the Internet.
"Xi Jinping has to earn brownie points ... a phenomenon unique to the culture of the Chinese Communist Party," U.S.-based author and political commentator Chen Pokong said in a recent commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin Service.
"Xi Jinping was chosen as the the highest-ranking leader by a faction of political elders and their interest groups," Chen wrote.
"Now, he has to earn his stripes in the eyes of this interest group and in the eyes of his political elders, as if to say ... 'You won't be disappointed that you picked me'," he said.
He said China's leadership would likely continue to ignore growing calls in China and overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which the party has styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
"They will do the opposite; implement a mass round-up of dissidents," Chen said.
The number of people killed when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary uprising," has not issued an official toll or list of names.
The crackdown, which officials said in a news conference at the time was necessary to suppress a "counterrevolutionary rebellion," sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.
The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers group says it has confirmed 186 deaths, though not all at the hands of the army.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by He Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.