OFFICIALS from Xinhua (the New China News Agency) in Hong Kong yesterday refused to accept a petition by local activists demanding the immediate release of dissidents behind the peace charter in Beijing.
Led by local legislator Cheung Man-kwong, the petitioners carried placards with sketches of the four dissidents held by Beijing police and shouted slogans such as ''safeguard freedom of speech'' and ''peace charter is not a crime'' during their brief demonstration in Happy Valley.
The petitioners also carried a large blue banner which read: ''Immediately Release All Peace Charter Detainees.'' Three mainland activists - Yang Zhou, Qin Yongmin and Zheng Xuguang - were arrested by Beijing police for their involvement with the peace charter, which calls for respect of human rights in China.
The fourth dissident, Fu Shenqi, was arrested earlier on counter-revolutionary charges and is being held in a labour prison in Shanghai.
Officials of Xinhua refused to accept an open letter addressed to Mr Qiao Shi, chairman of the National People's Congress.
''We are very concerned about the fate of these people . . .. We very much hope they could be released because all they have done is express their opinions peacefully,'' Mr Cheung said.
Soon after the petitioners assembled in front of the Xinhua office, an unidentified man began to film the petitioners. He later entered the Xinhua office and did not leave.
During the demonstration, a middle-aged man, identifying himself as a shoemaker, kneeled down in front of the Xinhua main gate and demanded that China allow labour activist Han Dongfang to return home.
The man, Yuan Dong-hong, said he had lived in Hong Kong for 13 years and believed it was ''unreasonable'' that Mr Han was denied the right to return to his country.