Authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin are holding a woman under criminal detention after she openly challenged a group of men watching her movements and posted a video of the conversation to social media.
Yao Lijuan, who had been under close surveillance by a nationwide "stability maintenance" operation in the run-up to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's five-yearly national congress in Beijing this month, posted the video of her and a companion challenging a group of unidentified men near her home in the city.
The video was shot as Yao approached a group of young men in casual clothes standing smoking on a street corner near her home in Tianjin.
"Who sent you here? Whether you are the police or stability maintenance, you should show me your professional ID, and then I'll cooperate with you," she asks them. "I need to know."
"So you have no formal role here," she says, when they refuse. She then films the license plate on their car, which is from out of town.
One gestures angrily when her companion asks if they are members of a criminal gang, while another denies having followed the couple.
"What do you mean, you haven't been following me?" Yao's friend says. "You've been following me for two days now."
Yao intervenes to minimize the conflict, before approaching two uniformed police officers to allude to the face-off.
"You have a hard job, doing stability maintenance. Thank you for protecting me," she tells them.
Yao later posted the video to social media in an appeal for help to her friends. She was detained by police the following day.
A friend of Yao's who asked to remain anonymous told RFA on Monday that she was detained by police last week on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
"Yao Lijuan is being held under criminal detention," the friend said. "She is in the Tianjin Detention Center."
"She was placed under surveillance on Sept. 29 by some unidentified thugs called in by the local police station," the friend said. "There were two uniformed police officers there at the same time."
"It was part of security for the 19th Party Congress, to stop her petitioning in Beijing ... She had posted two videos of them on WeChat, and they detained her in a big hurry," the friend said.
"She told them that if they were going to place her under surveillance, she would go and petition in Beijing," the friend said.
Authorities in China have launched a nationwide crackdown on thousands of "petitioners," ordinary people pursuing complaints against local officials, amid a massive "stability maintenance" operation targeting as many as 10,000 people across China for house arrest, detention, or round-the-clock surveillance.
Fujian-based rights activist He Zongwang is currently being held under a 15-day administrative sentence that can be handed down by police to perceived troublemakers without the need for a trial.
Guangdong democracy activist Xu Lin and Jiangxi activists Liu Sifang and Yang Tingjian were also recently detained, sources told RFA.
An Aug. 25 directive issued by a "stability maintenance" steering group under the party's Central Committee orders complaints departments at all levels of government and party to ensure that no petitioners are allowed to crowd around the outside of the government buildings in the run-up to the party congress.
Major political events like the opening of the 19th Party Congress on Oct. 18 are a big draw for those hoping their grievances will get a hearing, or at least some publicity.
But many are threatened and detained by local officials before they have even left their homes.
Authorities have now perfected a system of "interceptors," local enforcement officers sent by local governments to ensure no tales are told of their misdeeds in Beijing. Petitioners are often held in unofficial "black jails" and face other forms of threats, harassment, and extrajudicial detention.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.