Security even tighter after 'jasmine' call
Beijing authorities have been rounding up activists and dissidents as usual ahead of the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which begin this week.
But the atmosphere in the capital is even more tense than usual for this time of the year, with recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa having struck a raw nerve.
Dissidents and activist lawyers in Beijing said controls had tightened since last week. Some were stopped from visiting sensitive areas such as the Wangfujing shopping street or Xidan business district - locations specified in calls for 'jasmine rallies'.
The call for rallies, inspired by 'jasmine revolutions' in the Arab world, coincided with security preparations for the annual meeting of the CPPCC, beginning tomorrow, and the NPC, starting on Saturday.
'Two days ago, police officers visited my office and home to remind me that the two meetings are approaching, and not to visit any sensitive places to make trouble,' activist lawyer Mo Shaoping said. 'I know they were reminding me not to take part in the Sunday rallies.'
Zhang Xianling, the mother of a student killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, said she had been under surveillance since February 19, the day before the first round of Sunday rallies.
'The authorities have sent a total of 12 police officers and a car to keep watch on me every day since then,' she said. 'They take me everywhere I want to go, except some special places such as Tiananmen, Wangfujing or Ding Zilin's home.'
Ding is the leader of the 'Tiananmen Mothers', a group of relatives of protesters killed at Tiananmen Square. She said she was enjoying her usual level of freedom, but was prepared for a backlash.
'I am well prepared to be like Zhang and other dissidents as I sent an open letter, signed by 128 relatives of Tiananmen victims, to the NPC yesterday,' she said.
'We are calling on our Beijing leadership to face up to and study the 'jasmine revolutions' in the Middle East and North Africa seriously, as the leaders of Egypt and Libya both mentioned our Tiananmen protest 22 years ago.'
The Tiananmen mothers have been sending open letters to the NPC since 1995, demanding that the authorities investigate the bloody crackdown, in which the People's Liberation Army killed hundreds, maybe thousands, compensate victims and their relatives and punish the officials who ordered the crackdown.
Many dissidents linked to the Tiananmen movement have been put under strict monitoring as the NPC and CPPCC meetings approach, as in previous years.
Bao Tong, the highest-ranking official jailed over the Tiananmen crackdown, said he had been banned from talking to the overseas media during NPC sessions. Bao was director of the political reform bureau before he was ousted with party leader Zhao Ziyang in 1989.
Chen Ziming, who was accused of being the mastermind behind the Tiananmen protests and jailed for 13 years, said the authorities had sent a police car to keep watch on him since Sunday.
The authorities always try to stop petitioners from visiting Beijing during the NPC and CPPCC sessions, but a fresh crackdown has been instituted across the mainland, with activists or lawyers who have echoed the calls for rallies detained or taken away.
Beijing-based lawyer Teng Biao disappeared last Friday after expressing support for 'jasmine rallies' on Twitter, his mother-in-law, Pang Jinhua , said.
'We've neither seen him nor heard anything from him since then,' she said.
Beijing-based lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Tang Jitian and rights activist Gu Chuan have also been missing since last week.