Two local activists visiting the hometown of late dissident Li Wangyang were taken away by police and cut off from the outside world for 12 hours before being escorted back to the Hong Kong border, their friends said.
Benson Siu Kin-to, a 20-year-old law student at the University of Hong Kong, and Debby Chan Sze-wan, a spokeswoman for activist group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour, set out to Shaoyang city, Hunan province , on Thursday.
They intended to 'thank and mourn' Li, friends in Hong Kong say, but then lost contact with fellow activists in the city yesterday morning.
Li, who was jailed for 21 years for his role in the 1989 democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, was found hanged from a window with his feet on the ground at a hospital on June 6. Friends and family dismissed initial claims by the local authorities that the activist, who they say was blind and deaf after years of torture in prison, killed himself.
Yip said she took phone calls from Siu's number at 9.15am, 9.30am and 11.54am. Nobody spoke in any of the calls, but in the last she could hear two men talking in the background.
At around midnight, Yip wrote a post on Facebook saying the two had finally managed to get back in contact with friends in Hong Kong.
She said that officers from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council had taken the duo away from the Shaoyang Chengbei police station where they had been detained.
They were allowed to use the phone for 15 minutes before the cells got seized again.
The Facebook post said they were scheduled to arrive at Shenzhen this morning.
Earlier yesterday, the pair had sent back photographs of the city's bus station and the Daxiang District Hospital, where the dissident died.
Two other locals have since retuned from Shaoyang after learning of Siu's and Chan's experience.
Yip accused Hong Kong's Security Bureau of failing to help the pair.
'I called the bureau secretary's office, but a staff member told me to report the matter to public security,' she said, referring to the mainland police system.
'But I'm in Hong Kong now - where in Hong Kong can I report to them?'
The Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment last night.
Li's death has become a rallying point for dissent in Hong Kong ahead of tomorrow's 15th anniversary of coming under Beijing's rule.
Analysts believe the case will be one of a number of factors that will bolster turnout at the annual July 1 march, organised by pro-democracy activists in the city.
Hunan authorities have arranged an autopsy on Li and started a forensic investigation into his death. No results have yet been released.