Authorities in the southwestern Chinese megacity of Chongqing held dissidents and rights activists under surveillance ahead of a visit to the region by President Xi Jinping this week, RFA has learned.
Xi "inspected" Chongqing on Monday, generating images in state media of an avuncular president shaking hands with joyful schoolchildren and visiting ethnic minority villages.
"He learned about the progress of poverty alleviation and in solving prominent problems, including meeting the basic needs of food and clothing and guaranteeing compulsory education, medical services and housing," according to identically worded reports in all state media outlets.
Local police had begun placing dissidents and rights activists under surveillance several days ahead of the presidential visit, activists told RFA.
Chongqing-based rights activist Zhao Anxiu said she was beaten up and held under house arrest by "stability maintenance" officials from her neighborhood committee from Saturday to Tuesday.
"Because Xi Jinping visited, we were all under surveillance at home," Zhao said. "Many petitioners were forced to stay home. Most of us here in Chongqing have been shut down; some of them are incommunicado."
"The stability maintenance people watching me treated me roughly, yelling and swearing at me, and my blood pressure went sky-high," Zhao said. "I still have a lot of pain all over ... I am lying in bed right now."
A Chongqing resident surnamed Huang, who is pursuing a complaint against local officials, said she had been watched at home on Monday by four or five plainclothes police and local "stability maintenance" officials from the neighborhood committee.
"They didn't say anything about Xi Jinping coming, but they told me I had to stay home and couldn't go out for a few days," Huang said.
"They said if I needed food, they would get it for me. I stayed in for two days."
Xi's rivals purged
The cell phones of several rights activists in the Chongqing area were disconnected on Tuesday.
An officer who answered the phone at the Chongqing municipal police department declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Tuesday.
"Sorry, this isn't a press office," the officer said. "We don't know much about it. You can ask the propaganda department."
The trip is Xi's first since taking office as president, and comes after he changed the constitution to allow him to serve an indefinite term in office.
Two Chongqing party chiefs and Politburo members have fallen from power since Xi rose to be party general secretary in November 2012: Bo Xilai and Sun Zhengcai.
Both were seen as potential rivals to Xi, and had both been the focus of rumors of coup attempts.
A senior official has said that the investigation into Sun was sparked after authorities discovered his involvement in a “conspiracy” to overthrow President Xi Jinping.
The chairman of China's securities regulator Liu Shiyu told a meeting of top finance officials during the 19th party congress in October 2017 that the once-rising political star had plotted to seize power from the current leadership.
The leadership transition that eventually led to an indefinite term in office for Xi as president was finalized at the 18th Congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Nov. 8, 2012, the same day that Bo Xilai was expelled from the ruling party.
The ouster and trial of Bo, 63, was the most serious upheaval in the highest echelons of China's leadership since Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was purged in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Bo went on to receive a life sentence in prison on bribery charges, a 15-year jail term for embezzlement, and seven years for abuse of power in September 2013.
Sun Zhengcai was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Tianjin No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in May 2018 for bribery.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.