Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong shut down businesses, boosted police presence and told dissidents and rights activists to leave the provincial capital Guangzhou, as the city began its hosting of the Fortune Global Forum on Thursday.
As the heads of 150 major international corporations and tech firms gathered in the city to discuss major challenges facing multinational companies, local business owners said roads around the venue in Guangzhou's Haizhu district had been sealed off, and businesses ordered to close for the duration of the event.
"Our entire hotel has been blocked off, so we aren't taking any bookings from guests for the time being," an employee who answered the phone at a hotel near the forum venue told RFA on Monday.
"We won't be taking bookings until after the event," the employee said. "You need a special pass to gain entry to our hotel premises for the duration, and our hotel and some key areas outside have been sealed off."
The employee said the area around the Shangri-La Hotel in Haizhu had been sealed off by authorities starting on Sunday, and that security measures will be in place until Dec. 9.
Guangzhou-based women's rights activist Zheng Churan said she had been forced to leave the city earlier this month.
"I left Guangzhou at the beginning of this month, because I started to feel that it wasn't very safe, so I went on vacation overseas," Zheng said. "My landlord told me to go, and after I was evicted, I thought I'd better just leave before I got harassed any further."
"I was getting pretty scared and depressed because of all of this, because there isn't a single law in China that states that you can be evicted because of something you did," she said.
Zheng's eviction came as three other feminist activists left the provincial capital following a protracted campaign by authorities to force them out of their rented accommodation.
Activists Zhang Leilei, Guo Jing and Xiong Zai, who have been living in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou for several months, say they have had enough after being repeatedly targeted by police from their local Haizhu district police department.
They said police also cited the Fortune Global Forum as the reason for their eviction.
Zheng was among five Chinese feminists detained ahead of International Women's Day 2015 as they planned a public campaign against sexual harassment.
She and fellow detainees Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Wu Rongrong were released "on bail" in 2015 after being detained for several weeks on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
Their detentions prompted an international outcry, as they had been planning a low-level campaign against the sexual harassment of women on public transport.
They were never charged with any crime, but have continued to face official harassment, including evictions and travel bans.
A chat with police
A legal professional who asked to remain anonymous said he had also temporarily left Guangzhou, to avoid official harassment.
"The authorities have said they need to know the exact whereabouts of certain [dissident] figures during the Fortune Global Forum," the source said. "They may never have had plans to visit the venue."
"The likelihood of getting an administrative detention sentence for public protests is very high indeed." he said. "Some people have been called in for a chat [with state security police], and a lot of people have been detained in Guangzhou."
Haizhu resident Ou Shaokun said there is a visible police presence around the venue, with strict security scanning in place at the nearest metro station exits.
"There is definitely an increased security presence, with gun-toting police officers and bulletproof vehicles," Ou said. "Everyone who takes a bag onto the metro has to put it through a scanner."
He said the authorities have also canceled leave for all police officers for the duration of the forum.
"It's not just uniformed police either; a lot of employees have had their leave canceled and are patrolling the area wearing red armbands," he said. "My relative works in the police department and told me that they can't take any time off until after Dec. 8."
"Things have been very tightly controlled since [Sunday]," he said.
An official who answered the phone at the Haizhu police department on Monday declined to comment.
"I don't really know about that, so you should call the Guangzhou municipal propaganda department if you want to know more," the official said. "You can't ask us about it."
Calls to the Guangzhou municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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