Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday wound up a three-day state visit that has drawn sharp criticism of British Prime Minister David Cameron's government for taking a soft line on human rights, as activists highlighted ongoing abuses of prisoners of conscience and the arrest of a Chinese democracy activist in London.
U.K.-based rights activists, including Tiananmen Square veteran democracy activist Shao Jiang, who was arrested by British police in London as he tried to stand in front of Xi's motorcade on Thursday, had earlier called on the U.K. parliament to put more pressure on Beijing in an open letter.
Shao, whose arrest brought accusations that London's Metropolitan Police was doing Beijing's bidding, tweeted his bail notice following his release, which included conditions that he remain at a distance of more than 100 meters (330 feet) from the Chinese president.
"I was released yesterday, Oct. 22 at 4:00 p.m. but haven't had chance to get online until now," Shao said via his Twitter account on Friday.
"The police have taken all of my smart phones and computers to look for evidence with which to charge me."
A spokeswoman for London's Metropolitan Police defended the police treatment of Shao.
"The policing of the state visit—including this part of the operation—was a matter for the police, and to suggest we were doing anything but the regular police work associated with public order and ceremonial events is wrong," she told reporters.
"We facilitate peaceful protests—that is a fundamental part of our democracy and the Metropolitan Police acts without fear or favor—but we will also investigate possible criminality that could put the safety of London at risk and will not be dissuaded from doing that."
Former Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan, currently in Taiwan, hit out at the U.K.'s treatment of Shao, however.
"It's fine to arrest him at the scene, but why was it necessary to search his home?" Wang said. "It's almost as if they are treating him as a terrorist."
"I don't think the U.K. would have taken such action if it didn't want to please China."
Wang said he was very disappointed with the U.K.'s response to China during Xi's trip.
"Britain is a country with a long tradition to be ignoring human rights, or taking them lightly," Wang said. "I am extremely unhappy about this, so I will be going to the U.K. representative office in Taiwan."
"I want to hear their explanation."
An open letter to the U.K. parliament, posted to the petition website Change.org, said Xi is responsible for the forced disappearance and arbitrary detention of more than 2,000 human right defenders in China, Tibet and the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, which many ethnic Uyghurs would like to see independent.
"Almost all those jailed have suffered ill-treatment or torture," the letter said, citing the detention of more than 300 people this summer in an ongoing crackdown on China's embattled legal profession, the life sentence handed to Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti and the death in custody of Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
It said Xi’s government has been responsible for the deaths of more than 600 Uyghur civilians, and that its policies have prompted more than 140 Tibetans to self-immolate since he came to power in late 2012.
"We, the undersigned, urge you to take action and support measures which will bring real human rights to the people living under the Chinese Communist Party regime," the petition said.
Hong Kong-based Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said many people in the U.K., including MPs, appear concerned by the British government's growing rapprochement with China, which is pouring billions of dollars into the country annually.
"People are afraid that this so-called golden age in relations will mean an end to all discussion of human rights," Nee said on Friday.
"Their worries include lawyer Zhang Kai who was giving legal assistance to churches during the mass demolition of crosses [in the eastern province of Zhejiang], and the wider crackdown on lawyers," he said.
"I think these are all important issues."
Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has also added his voice to the chorus of criticism surrounding Xi's British visit.
"I think the British Prime Minister has had a record of putting human rights aside which is very bad strategy and also very bad aesthetics, because this certainly doesn't represent the British people," Ai told Sky News on Thursday.
"When they see Mr. Cameron not put human rights as an issue, [that] will make people very disappointed ... This is wrong and lowers standards," he said.
China's record on torture will come under scrutiny when the country's compliance with the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment comes up for review in Geneva in mid-November, rights groups said.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which translates and collates reports from rights groups working inside China, said Jiangsu activist Shen Aibin had recently come forward with a detailed account of his torture at the hands of Chinese police in 2013.
In June and July that year, police at the Dongjiang Police Station in Jiangsu's Wuxi severely beat, verbally abused, and threatened Shen in a bid to extract a "confession" from him after he tried to blow the whistle on a "black jail," or unofficial detention center, according to CHRD.
When he refused, they attached his arms to two rails of a V-shaped ladder and stretched the sides of the ladder out, pulling Shen’s arms wide apart, and repeating the process until he finally signed the "confession," it said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing, Zhou Zinan and Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.