An activist who campaigned to remove the mayor of Tangshan city in northern China over a land dispute with relocated farmers, has been taken away from his home by police and restrictions placed on his immediate family, RFA's Mandarin service reports.
Relatives and legal representatives told RFA that Zhang Youren, who led residents of Kou district in a petition to the country's parliament in Beijing in March, was taken away by police in July.
"Police are watching the family members closely."
Zhang was being held at the Fengnan District hospital and guarded by four policemen inside the ward who scuffled with his son during a visit, Beijing-based legal scholar Yu Meisun told RFA. Zhang's son was unable to exchange words with his father, although he did get a look at him, Yu said.
The rest of the family has since been under tight restrictions.
"Police are watching the family members closely," the relative told RFA reporter Yan Ming in a recent interview. "When visitors came, the police would stop them from talking with Zhang¹s family members. They have no way to talk with anyone from the outside. Their phone has been taken away," she said.
The illegal detention of Zhang Youren and the search of his home without warrant have angered residents in Fengnan District and its nearby Yutian County, Yu told RFA. He said several hundred residents were planning to drive to Beijing to report the case to the central government. It was not immediately known whether they had tried to do so.
Meanwhile, about 80 kilometers away, in Qian'an township, local officials were also engaged in retaliation against Hao Shuqing, a peasant who exposed the illegal doings of Tangshan mayor Zhang He in 2002, a Chinese investigative journalist has found.
Hao Shuqing, a peasant from Pengdanzi village, near Qian'an, went to Beijing and reported to the central government that Zhang had accepted bribes and covered up the murder of the former mayor of Qian'an Township by Zhang¹s subordinates, according to a report by Zhao Yan, a reporter with the China Reform Magazine.
Zhao, who reported the story as an example of the official violation of citizens' rights, said Zhang sent people to Beijing, kidnapped Hao Shuqing and brought him back to the city of Tangshan, jailing him for 18 months.
According to Zhao, Hao Shuqing was not the only one who was retaliated against, and his family members also received all sorts of threats.
"Local officials would intimidate his family members everyday. His kids don¹t even have money to pay for school. His mother cried all day every day and has lost her eyesight. This is how Zhang He bullies people," Zhao told RFA. Zhao has also been the target of retaliation by officials. "We cannot even reach Hao by phone. We are now negotiating with the Public Security Department to rescue Hao. I don¹t know when he can be released. "
"On the day of his trial, it was supposed to be open to the public. We tried to go but our request was rejected. I tried to make the request as a friend, they said no. I asked to enter the court as his legal representative, they said no," Zhao said.
"Since the court in Tangshan appointed him a lawyer, and Hao Shuqing wasn¹t allowed to get his own lawyer, they can do whatever they want."
Zhang Youren and Hao Shuqing have both attempted to expose problems that related to Tangshan Mayor Zhang He. Under the leadership of Zhang Youren, about 20,000 residents petitioned to remove Zhang after his government failed to pay lawful compensation following a forced relocation to make way for the Taolinkou reservoir in 1992..
Their petition did not get any response from the local government, and a later petition to the National People's Congress in March was posted on the Internet, leading to the detention of several Tangshan petitioners by local police who followed them to Beijing.
Citizen rights protection movements among peasants have gained momentum elsewhere in China, and are now reported in scholarly journals like that of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences. More than 10,000 peasants from Fu-an and Fuzhou cities in the southeastern province of Fujian filed a petition to remove the mayors of their cities after their land was illegally occupied and taken by the local governments.