Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained dozens of people who traveled there to make complaints against the ruling Communist Party ahead of the country's National Day celebrations on Saturday.
As Beijing gears up to mark the 67th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic by late supreme leader Mao Zedong on Oct. 1, 1949, thousands of petitioners have converged on the city with grievances ranging from nonpayment of military and disability pensions to forced evictions, financial scams and official abuses of power.
Among the detainees, who were put aboard police buses and escorted to an unofficial detention center at Majialou in a Beijing suburb, 12 were placed under administrative detention for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after they traveled from the southwestern city of Chongqing to make their complaints.
"There were 14 of them who went to lodge a petition, and 23 of them were held under administrative detention," the husband of detainee Zhou Kelan said on Friday.
"Zhou Kelan is now under 15-day detention, starting yesterday, on charges of picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," he said.
The group was detained outside the complaints department of China's cabinet, the State Council, fellow petitioners said.
The wife of another detainee, He Chaozheng, said she had been unable to locate her husband since his detention.
"We called the [Chongqing] representative office in Beijing, and they said He Chaozheng had gone back home on Wednesday, and that no officials had come to escort him back there," his wife said.
"But if he went home of his own accord, then how come I haven't heard any news of him?" she said. "The local police station ... said they don't know where he is either."
Unofficial detention and torture
Chongqing activists said some petitioners already escorted back to home had been subjected to unofficial detention and tortured by local officials.
They said leukemia patient Cheng Ruwen was taken to the city's Beibei District police department on Sept. 25 and deprived of sleep for 48 hours without undergoing any legal formalities. Cheng was released on Thursday after vomiting blood.
Meanwhile Zheng Jijun, Yuan Changshu remained incommunicado, while police handed down a 10-day administrative sentence to Zou Maoshu, and 15-day sentences to Zhou Kelan and Xiao Chenglin, fellow petitioners said.
Xiao Chenglin's son told RFA he had learned of his father's detention in a phone call from police.
"They told me to take some clothes to him at the detention center and that he was being held for 15 days," he said.
Asked if there were any written documents issued, he said: "No, there weren't."
As President Xi Jinping laid wreaths at the Monument to the People's Heroes on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the entire area was cordoned off by police, preventing petitioners from approaching, they told RFA.
Chongqing evictee Chen Mingyu said many petitioners had come to Beijing in the hope that the central government would be more receptive to their complaints at a time of national celebration.
"There are so many people at this time of year, because ... petitioners want to get in their complaints before the long vacation," Chen said. "That's why there are more people here."
A Chongqing-based rights activist surnamed Pan said that many of the complaints are triggered by local officials violating the basic rights of local residents in the first place.
"It's very, very common for people who try to defend their rights to be targeted for persecution," Pan said. "But the oppression is on such a large scale now; it's gotten crazy."
"They are also acting under pressure from their leaders higher up," he said. "But this is only going to make more people want to complain and petition."
Among the petitioners in Beijing were several hundred victims of an investment scam from Shanghai.
"There are around 800 people here in all, because the financial scams affected a lot of different companies," Shanghai petitioner Zheng Jianfang said.
"There were several thousand people outside the State Council complaints department [on Thursday]," Zheng said.
He said more than 30,000 people had been hit by the scam across China, which had resulted in the loss of more than 40 billion yuan [U.S. $6 million] in life savings.
But the group has already been in Beijing for more than a year, he added.
"We have been complaining about this at the central government for more than a year now, to no avail," Zheng said.
"This is the second time we have presented a mass petition ... We want the government and the police to take action by starting an investigation and pursuing those responsible, and getting our money back," he said.
The scene outside the complaints office has been chaotic in recent days, as petitioners hope to use the National Day celebrations as a way of highlighting their cases to the authorities in Beijing.
"Some people are clutching large folders of people, spreading them out on the carpet; others are lining up," Hebei-based petitioner He Yazhen told RFA on Thursday.
"There are interceptors from various localities across China who are looking for people to escort home again," He said. "I am in Majialou right now, and yet another busload has just arrived."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.