Authorities in China's capital are holding three people on public order charges after a protest by laid-off employees from the state-owned banking sector converged on Beijing to complain about a lack of promised benefits after they were made redundant.
The laid-off workers gathered outside the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's Beijing headquarters earlier this week, chanting, "Give us back our social security! Give us back our health insurance! These layoffs were illegal!"
Around a dozen police officers came to the scene, with scuffles recorded on video footage shown to RFA.
They detained protester Nan Wenzhi and two others at the scene.
Nan's wife told RFA on Thursday that her husband is still being held at the local police station two days later.
"I didn't know he was going to be held until ... the police called me yesterday evening and said that I should go down to the police station if I wanted to see Nan Wenzhi," she said.
"I haven't had any details yet, but he didn't seem very optimistic," she added. "They could pin a charge on him at any time."
A fellow protester surnamed Yu told RFA that Nan is currently being held on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
"Nan Wenzhi was an employee of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Hebei province," Yu said. "He was shouting slogans outside ICBC [headquarters]."
"When the police from Beijing's Dongcheng district arrived, the security guards from the Agricultural Bank of China said he wasn't one of theirs, so the police detained him for picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," he said.
"A former employee of the Agricultural Bank from Hubei province was detained at the same time, as well as one other person," he said, adding that the other two detainees were taken away because they had tried to stand up for Nan.
"They were saying that Nan Wenzhi should be part of our group, and they were just taken away, just like that," Yu said.
"Nan Wenzhi didn't do anything wrong. He was just trying to get a resolution with this issue with the banks for himself and everyone else," he said.
The detentions come as a secret recording of a closed-doors official meeting in the northern province of Hebei, which borders Beijing, revealed the ruling Chinese Communist Party's strategy regarding petitioners: ordinary people who pursue complaints through official and judicial channels over miscarriages of justice and official wrongdoing.
Participants at a meeting of the "stability maintenance" committee of Hebei's Wu'an city, who included local law enforcement agencies, were told by Han Baokui, head of the municipal People's Political Consultative Conference, that they should "strike hard" against petitioners, who are "against the party and the government."
In the recording, Han details a number of approaches to people having the temerity to complain about the government.
"We must also resolutely pursue anyone entering Beijing with the aim of inciting petitioners," he tells the meeting. "They are opposing the party and the government. So how should we deal with them? Find the person and hit them."
It was unclear whether Han intended the word "hit" literally or metaphorically in this context, but petitioners have long complained of physical beatings at the hands of the authorities.
"And you can always make something happen to to other members [of their group] or their family members," he says. "That's a good way of dealing with it."
Han, who says he served on a party committee directing law enforcement for five years, advocates tracking people's use of the social media platform WeChat to target them.
"Discipline needs to be tight," he says. "You need to make sure that nobody is talking about this outside these operations ... which you need to be sure is being carried out very quietly."
"Anyone leaking secrets must be disciplined, either by the party or via a police investigation, and resolutely pursued."
An official who answered the phone at the Wu'an People's Political Consultative Conference declined to comment when asked to verify the recording.
"None of our leaders are here; they are in a meeting," the official said.
But Hangzhou rights activist Li Wei, a member of the anti-corruption New Citizens' Movement who has himself been a target of the "stability maintenance" regime, said the recording was an accurate reflection of the way the system works.
"The lower ranks of police officers will take their cue from those above them, whether or not their orders are legal, and regardless of whether they infringe human rights," Li said. "There are no depths to which they will not sink."
"The stability maintenance system operates outside of the law, and things will carry on this way."
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Sui Muqing said the recording reflected the authorities' approach to anyone trying to use China's historic "letters and visits" complaints system to highlight alleged wrongdoing.
"A lot of issues emerge from listening to this recording," Sui said. "They are using extrajudicial and illegal measures to target petitioners, such as the use of phone-taps, monitoring and house arrest at will, as well as illegally treating others as guilty by association."
"The petitioning system was created by the Chinese Communist Party, based on a complaints and injustice review procedure that dated back to imperial times," he said. "Now, they have designated petitioning as an anti-party activity."
"This is extremely twisted logic, because a dictatorial country needs to keep on creating new enemies to shore up the state machine, while draining the country and society of its resources," he said.
"But at the same time of course, they are also eating into their own legitimacy."
China's army of petitioners files thousands of complaints and grievances in person every day to offices across the country, prompting Beijing to ban petitioning to higher authorities without going through local complaints departments first.
The ban has done little to curb the sheer numbers complaining about issues ranging from the loss of farmland, forced eviction, deaths in detention and the non-payment of salaries and benefits to official abuse of power and health problems linked to pollution.
Many petitioners complain of beatings, illegal detention in "black jails," "legal study centers" or psychiatric institutions after they return home, while reports have emerged of petitioners who die en route, while in the custody of police or interceptors.
Activists and petitioners "under treatment" have been detained, tied up, beaten, forced to wear manacles and leg irons, and forcibly fed psychoactive drugs, as well as denied access to the outside and to visits from their friends and family.
Hospitals often refuse to discharge such "patients" without the agreement of law enforcement agencies, and inmates are sometimes forced to sign "guarantees" that they will drop all further action against the government before being released.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.