Disgruntled veterans of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) have launched a nationwide campaign ahead of the ruling Communist Party's 90th anniversary celebrations, calling for better benefits and conditions.
Around 800 former army officers gathered outside the Kunming municipal government offices in the southwestern province of Yunnan on Tuesday, holding banners congratulating the Party on its 90th birthday, but also protesting against what they say is unfair treatment at its hands.
"This is an internal matter between ourselves," said one participant. "Mostly we don't communicate it to the outside world, sorry."
Sources close to the protest said some petitioners had already set out for Beijing ahead of the Party's anniversary celebrations.
Henan-based retired army officer Zhang Yong said that PLA veterans were launching protests nationwide ahead of the anniversary of the Party's founding on July 1.
"They are all carrying out different types of activities for July 1, launched by their own organizations for retired military personnel,"
"We will also have [an activity] in Henan," he said. "Some of the retired military personnel from Yunnan have already gone to Beijing."
However, a retired military officer from Yantai city, in the eastern province of Shandong, declined to comment on the activity, hanging up as soon as he heard the reporter was calling from Hong Kong.
Retired military personnel have been cited by officials and activists as highly sensitive sectors of the population, who might swing a tide of public opinion in their favor and against the ruling Communist Party, because of their proven loyalty to Party and country.
The sensitivity around military retirees suggests that many are afraid of politicizing their cause through contact with foreign media.
However, a second Yantai-based retiree confirmed the activities.
"[Retired military personnel] from Guizhou, Hubei, Guangzhou, have the idea that they can both commemorate the Party's anniversary and call for some policy changes," he said. "There have been quite a lot of them lately."
"They want justice and fairness," he said.
Zhang said the authorities would crack down on any retired PLA personnel who made a public fuss about their grievances, adding that a number of veterans who had changed status to police officers had been detained in recent weeks.
"He Guanshan from Penglai in Shandong was detained recently for 17 days just for mentioning plans to join in some of the 90th anniversary celebrations on July 1 online," Zhang said.
"The police had him under surveillance for highlighting some inequalities and injustices in the treatment [of veterans]," he said.
He said another veteran from Wuhan had his computer confiscated after he traveled to Henan province to meet with other former PLA personnel.
Chinese authorities have clamped down on all forms of public protest ahead of anniversary celebrations on July 1, rounding up petitioners who have converged on major cities ahead of the event.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harrassed by the authorities if they try to take a complaint against local government actions to a higher level of government.
Activists are becoming increasingly vocal about China’s “black jails,” which they say function as detention centers holding protesters without due process or right to appeal.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.