Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei have beaten up one woman who petitioned against their local government and incarcerated a third in a psychiatric institution, fellow petitioners told RFA.
Wuhan petitioner Hu Yuling was attacked on April 1 by a group of unidentified thugs wearing caps, masks and wielding makeshift weapons who piled out of a minivan at around 5.00 p.m., she told RFA.
"I had just left home to go out, and as I was arriving at the scene of the incident, I spotted a minivan parked up across the road, opposite me," Hu said. "The doors suddenly opened and and jumped a bunch of people with weapons, who charged across the road and attacked me savagely like a pack."
"I didn't even have the time to yell for help. It was over as soon as it began, in less than two minutes," Hu said. "They were all wearing face-masks and caps, and they were carrying weapons."
Hu has been petitioning over a forced eviction from her home for years. In 2015, she was among a group of around a dozen evictees from Wuhan who attempted self-immolation in protest on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
They were later charged with "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and Hu served one year and one month in prison for her protest.
Saturday's attack was the third since her release from jail on Jan. 15, she said.
"Ever since I got out of jail ... there has been someone following me, threatening me if I carry on petitioning, and limiting my freedom," Hu said.
"Back in June and July 2015," she recalls, "they beat me up twice, in front of my three-year-old child, as we were on the way home."
Hu called the police, who opened a case file, but nothing was done.
"Then the forcibly demolished my home on Aug. 12, 2015, and threw all four members of my family out onto the streets wearing only the clothes we had on our backs," she said.
"Since then, I have been petitioning non-stop. When there were no more petitioning routes open to us, I went to Beijing on Dec. 16, 2015, and set fire to myself."
Locked in mental hospital
Elsewhere in Hubei, petitioner Cai Jianping said the authorities had locked up her sister Cai Yinglan after the pair petitioned in Beijing over a dispute with local officials about unpaid farming subsidies.
"They dragged Cai Yinglan into a black van and took her off to the mental hospital," Cai told RFA. "Her ankles and wrists are still bruised and swollen and her feet have changed shape."
"I went to the Ezhou municipal government to complain about this incident, and I called 110 and reported it to the police, but they didn't do anything to save her from there," she said. "It's a case of don't ask, don't tell."
Cai said her sister is now being force-fed psychiatric medication by injection at the Ezhou Special Care Hospital after local officials wrote a report accusing her of "damaging society through petitioning."
While her sister has suffered from intermittent mental health problems, she is able to function normally and has no need of in-patient treatment, she added.
Many petitioners complain of beatings, illegal detention in "black jails" or "legal study centers" and other forms of official harassment after they return home, while reports have emerged of petitioners who die en route, while in the custody of police or interceptors.
Women are particularly vulnerable once they become embroiled in China's "stability maintenance" regime.
Petitioners Wang Shetao and Li Xiaocui, of Luoyang's Liangzhai village, reportedly burned to death in murky circumstances in January after a fire at a police station, official media reported.
Later the same month, Heilongjiang petitioner Li Naiqiu said she was picked up by interceptors from Taihe city and escorted back to her hometown from the unofficial detention center at Majialou on Jan. 22.
On the trip home, she was handcuffed and beaten up by the officials, who also kicked her in the abdomen, putting her unborn baby at risk, she told RFA at the time.
Deaths and "disappearances" in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," are also not uncommon, but evidence of police wrong-doing is hard to come by when the authorities typically refuse to allow independent autopsies.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.