Activists from around China have been converging on an eastern town during the Lunar New Year holiday to demand an investigation into the death of a fellow activist’s father at a government building.
Activists are saying the outpouring is a sign of their movement’s resilience in the face of a recent spate of court convictions cracking down on rallies by fellow members of loosely knit grassroots groups.
They estimate that 60 to 100 activists have gone to Qufu in Shandong Province over a period usually devoted solely to family reunions.
“More of us should move from the Internet to real life and show the power we have as citizens,” Yang Chong (楊崇), an activist who came from Guangzhou to Qufu for the rally, said in a telephone interview.
The Qufu gathering was triggered by the sudden death of Xue Fushun (薛福順), the father of Xue Mingkai (薛明凱), a dissident who has been jailed twice for his opposition to China’s one-party rule.
Friends and supporters say the elder Xue went to the Qufu Prosecutors’ Office to argue for his freedom after local authorities detained him and his wife in a guesthouse — a common tactic to quell dissent by targeting the relatives of dissidents.
He fell to his death from the building’s fourth floor on Jan. 29.
Police ruled the incident a suicide and declined to investigate further, but the family’s lawyers and supporters say the death is suspicious and are demanding an unbiased investigation.
“He was seeking freedom from state security and how on earth would he want to kill himself?” Beijing-based human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) said.
A worker at a Qufu police station confirmed that many supporters of Xue’s family had visited the police station, but that he could not reveal more details.
A man who answered the phone at a Qufu Government office on Friday said he had no knowledge about the case.
The first grassroots activist arrived on Jan. 31 in Qufu, known as the hometown of Confucius (孔子). More arrived in the ensuing days, eventually reaching at least 60 and forming an impromptu citizen watchers group, six of them said in interviews.
The visits began days after the conviction and sentencing of Xu Zhiyong (許志永), the Beijing-based founder of the New Citizens Movement, to four years in prison for taking part in small public rallies, amid a broader crackdown on dissent.
Several other members of the movement, as well as a key member of a Guangzhou-based group called the Southern Street Movement, were also put on trial last month.
Many of the activists showing up in Qufu are from Southern Street, but they have been joined by activists based elsewhere as well.
They say they have been rounded up, interrogated by police and sent away on trains, although many have managed to stay in the vicinity.
“The government tries to create fear, but as an awakened citizen, I must go forward even if there is fear,” said Ou Biaofeng, who traveled from Hunan Province to join the Qufu rally.