Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei have detained three people and cordoned off the streets around the provincial legislature as hundreds of petitioners marched to air grievances against the government, activists said on Monday.
Around 600 people gathered outside the National People's Congress (NPC) building in the provincial capital Wuhan, calling on delegates to come out and hold talks.
Three were beaten up by police, including two evictees from Hualou Street, where residents had to move to make way for commercial and residential projects, petitioners said. They identified the duo as Chen Shunxi and Yang Bin.
"Chen Shunxi got into a scuffle with police, and a large number of petitioners rushed over to...the Youth Palace which the evictees had taken over."
"There was a short scuffle...and the police beat them," he said.
He said the strength of the police response appeared to be a reaction to a large petitioner demonstration outside the Wuhan NPC, China's rubber-stamp parliament, at the beginning of 2013.
"There were several hundred people there, and there were many more who were under house arrest, and couldn't leave their homes," Jiang said. "Some were even accompanied to the demonstration by police."
"The authorities pressed a few local community centers into service and used them as a holding center for some people, where they were watched by government officials and interceptors [from local governments.]
Faced with millions of complaints from petitioners each year, local governments employ whole teams of law enforcement officials who intercept those who complain about the local authorities to a higher level.
Many petitioners who complain say they are beaten and subjected to extrajudical detention in "black jails," while others have been sent to labor camps and to "legal education centers" where they are held indefinitely without trial.
'Flung us on the floor'
"The people don't even get to see the people's delegates," Jiang added. "I and my spouse were carried away from the [NPC gates] by seven or eight people apiece, into the residential area where they flung us on the floor and wouldn't let us move."
A third petitioner, Peng Hanyi, said the petitioners were shouting slogans outside the building in the hope of getting their grievances heard, and surrounded a bus full of NPC delegates that was trying to leave.
"They were all standing there shouting about injustice," Peng said. "Then they were taken away by some residential area officials."
Peng said the police presence and security cordon had expanded hugely since the inaugural meeting on Sunday, when petitioners succeeded in bursting through police lines.
"It was absolutely packed [on Monday], with people in the alleyways and standing all along the street," he said. "There were also plainclothes police, community officers...a huge amount of people keeping order."
Overloaded by complaints
China's petitioning system is overloaded by nearly 20,000 complaints filed daily to offices across the country, largely over land expropriations, housing demolition, or labor and social protection.
But the authorities have kept up a "stranglehold" on petitioners and rights activists in recent years, subjecting thousands to arbitrary detention in labor camps and unofficial "black jails," rights groups say.
While China's national-level parliament last week voted to formally abolish the widely criticized "re-education through labor" system of administrative punishment, lawyers say they fear similar forms of arbitrary detention will replace it.
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with property developers to boost revenue, rights groups say.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.