Authorities in the Chinese capital have stepped up security measures ahead of annual parliamentary sessions that were postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, detaining at least one rights activist.
Security checks are under way ahead of the China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) and its advisory body the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which will begin shortened sessions on May 21.
Beginning in May, district and neighborhood government offices have been told to draw up "stability maintenance" plans to ensure no trouble comes from peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party ahead of the meetings.
Plans include spot checks and monitoring of small hotels and guesthouses, temporary rental accommodation, and other "hidden dangers," sources said.
Meanwhile, authorities elsewhere in China are contacting people with grievances against the government and warning them not to travel to Beijing until after the parliament is over.
Authorities in the central province of Hunan are holding pro-democracy activist Xie Wenfei under criminal detention on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
Xie, also known by his birth name Xie Fengxia, was detained by police in Hunan's Chenzhou city on April 29.
"His family have been notified of his criminal detention on suspicion of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," fellow rights activist Ou Biaofeng told RFA.
"His family went to get the document from the state security police, who called them on the morning of May 3," Ou said. "His family hasn't had any news of him since then."
"They are looking for a defense lawyer."
Police have also interviewed Xie's friends, Ou said, adding that his detention is likely linked to a poem he wrote about the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan.
Petitioners evicted, phones monitored
A petitioner from the central city of Wuhan surnamed Zhang--who is currently in Beijing--said his phone is currently being monitored by local police, and that petitioners from out of town who are staying in Beijing are also being evicted from their accommodation.
"They have started evicting rights activists, since yesterday," Zhang said.
"A friend told me this morning that they had been sent to Majialou and that [interceptors] from his hometown had been called to come and pick him up," he said, referring to a large, extrajudicial detention center for out-of-town petitioners on the outskirts of Beijing.
"The people they are clearing out [of Beijing are also] being sent to Jiujingzhuang," Zhang said, referring to a second detention center in a suburb of Beijing.
A Beijing academic who declined to be named said the length of this year's parliamentary sessions has been shorted from around 12 days last year to just eight days this year, with the size of provincial delegations also slashed.
Hong Kong's pro-Beijing newspaper, the Ta Kung Pao, said hotels in Beijing are already preparing to receive the delegations, often by shutting their doors to external customers for the duration of the parliament.
It said the Beijing Hotel close to the Great Hall of the People had no rooms available from May 10 through May 29.
A Beijing resident surnamed Liu said security measures are somewhat looser this year than in previous years owing to widespread concerns over the coronavirus.
"Everyone is stuck at home, and they will stop you from buying a ticket as soon as you try it," Liu said. "The local governments won't let people travel [to Beijing]."
China’s minister of public security Zhao Kezhi called on law enforcement on Monday to "go all out to resolutely complete the important political task of security for the NPC and CPPCC sessions."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.