Authorities in Beijing have rounded up hundreds of petitioners seeking to mark the anniversary of the birth of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, and have stepped up police patrols over Christmas, petitioners said on Wednesday.
A large group of petitioners who gathered at Beijing's southern railway station to mark the 119th anniversary of Mao's birth on Wednesday were detained by police, according to Hubei rights activist Yi Xu'an.
"We held some activities near the southern railway station today, and sang the Internationale," Yi said. "Some of the petitioners blocked the road, but only in a minor way."
"Then the police came and put them on buses. I counted six buses, each of which had around 100 people on board," he said.
Authorities routinely disperse petitioners who gather to sing revolutionary songs from the Mao era, or who use public images of the former supreme leader as a focus for protest.
Mao's memory is often invoked to boost morale among China's army of petitioners, many of whom have pursued complaints over official wrongdoing for many years, often to no avail.
A petitioner surnamed Li said he saw another group detained after they tried to congregate below the large public portrait of Mao on Tiananmen Square.
"A lot of petitioners were planning to go to Tiananmen Square today, but they were taken away in police vehicles to [detention centers at] Jiujingzhuang and Majialou on the pretext of addressing their complaints," he said.
A third petitioner, Guo Hong, said she too had been outside the southern railway station when police struck.
"They put us into buses and took us to Jiujingzhuang," Guo said. "There are a lot of people packed in here now."
It's nearly 2.00 p.m. and we haven't eaten lunch. We are still stuck on the bus [in a queue]," she added.
Meanwhile, members of unofficial Protestant "house churches" in Beijing said they were being held under house arrest over Christmas.
"The [police] held an emergency meeting on Dec. 24 on how to tighten controls on Protestant churches, Catholics, and house churches," Protestant believer Li Jincheng said.
"The armed police and plainclothes police have been patrolling the southern railway station day and night," he said. "I saw them with my own eyes."
In July, Beijing authorities detained 10 eviction protesters after they staged a protest in Tiananmen Square, kneeling en masse in front of the portrait of Mao, a symbol of communist rule in China and an unofficial icon for the poor and oppressed.
Petitioner Yao Yuling was detained by police in mid-August as she sang "red songs" outside the People's Supreme Procuratorate in Beijing, and was handed a year's "re-education through labor."
Not all petitioners remember Mao fondly, however.
"This year marks the 119th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, who founded the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party," petitioner Li Minghao said.
"A lot of people still remember him fondly, but I think that the roots of today's corrupt society lie in the dictatorship that he founded."
"Dictatorship and corruption are like conjoined twins, and China's problems are the result of the system set up by its leaders."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.