A group of top lawyers called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday to ratify United Nations rights treaties, as police in Wuhan detained a veteran activist who tried to set up a rights monitoring group.
The group said they had garnered more than 100 signatures to their open letter to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament, to mark the scale of rights abuses in 2013.
"A lot of events took place in 2013 that touched on human rights issues," Beijing-base rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who was among those who signed the letter, said in an interview on Tuesday.
"2013 was also a year in which we saw more public debate on topics related to constitutional politics than ever before," he said. "We think this has been a very important year."
"Unfortunately, I would have to call it a year of retrogression on constitutional politics ... and that is something that gives great cause for concern," Jiang said.
The letter, which calls on the NPC to immediately ratify the United Nations human rights covenants, was signed by members of the China Human Rights' Lawyers Group, which was set up in September.
"Many people who have worked to advance the cause of social justice and citizens' rights have been detained, charged and tried," it said, adding: "The human rights situation in China continues to worsen."
Zhejiang-based rights lawyer Wang Cheng said lawyers were concerned over the large numbers of citizens who have been detained in the last year for "spreading online rumors," when they were simply exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
"When they arrested [businessman and big-name microblogger] Wang Gongquan, we realized that the situation was extremely dire," Wang said.
"As a new year approaches, we must take this huge problem seriously," she said. "We believe that the lack of guarantee of citizens' political rights lies at the root of all of it."
Meanwhile, fellow rights lawyer Tang Jitian said lawyers were concerned in particular at the number of extrajudicial detentions taking place, in spite of pledges by the government to end one form of administrative punishment, "re-education through labor."
"This has been the most urgent issue facing China for a long time now," Tang said.
Meanwhile, police in the central city of Wuhan detained veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin en route to Beijing to apply to register his "China Human Rights Watch" group with the Communist Party.
"After the authorities found out what I was doing, they kept up pressure on me, hoping I would postpone the registration process," Qin said from a friend's home in neighboring Henan, where he is currently staying.
"Then, on [Monday], I was surrounded by police keeping watch on me outside my home, after I had just left home [for Beijing]," Qin said.
"They followed me all the way to the Wuhan high-speed railway station ... and told me that I couldn't continue my journey north [after meeting up with my wife in Henan]," he said.
"These past few days in Henan ... there have been people following behind me and shooting video, even after I have been to meet up with friends," Qin said.
Qin said he had planned to lodge his application in the first working days of 2014 at the civil affairs ministry in Beijing.
"But I hadn't forseen what would happen to me on the way there," he said.
Shortly after speaking to RFA, Qin and his wife were taken to a police station for questioning, according to a source close to the situation.
"At 5:00 p.m. they were taking a walk, and they were stopped by police from the local police station and taken there, where they are still being held," the source said.
Calls to Qin's cell phone numbers resulted in a repeated busy signal following his detention.
Rights lawyer Jiang, who is already a member of Qin's group, said China Human Rights Watch already boasts more than 80 members.
"They are all from the middle and lower levels of society, but all feel a sense of responsibility as Chinese citizens," he said.
"Some are petitioners, while others are heroes who want to see China move into a new era in its history," Jiang said.
Qin served a lengthy jail term for subversion after he helped found the banned China Democracy Party (CDP), and recently called on the new generation of leaders under Xi to enter into "peaceful dialogue" with Chinese citizens, or risk the fall of the regime in a manner similar to that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
The 57-year-old Qin is a veteran dissident who was initially sentenced to eight years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and subversion" in the wake of China's Democracy Wall movement in 1981.
A contemporary of exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng, Qin served a further two years' "re-education through labor" in 1993 after he penned a controversial document titled "Peace Charter."
By 1998, Qin was the editor of the China Human Rights Observer newsletter, and one of a number of political activists who attempted to register the China Democracy Party (CDP).
Aside from Qin, Hangzhou-based CDP founder Wang Youcai and Beijing-based Xu Wenli received 11-year and 13-year jail terms respectively for being linked to the opposition party. Both were later exiled to the United States on medical parole.
Beijing has hit out at international concern over its human rights situation, saying that only the Chinese people have the right to speak out on the subject.
China signed the U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998, but neither treaty has been ratified by the NPC.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.