Several top Chinese rights activists have disappeared into police custody as a web campaign urged angry citizens to mark the Middle East's "Jasmine Revolution" with protests, campaigners said Sunday.
Up to 15 leading Chinese rights lawyers and activists have disappeared since Saturday, campaigners said, while the Chinese government appeared to censor Internet postings calling for the demonstrations.
"We welcome... laid off workers and victims of forced evictions to participate in demonstrations, shout slogans and seek freedom, democracy and political reform to end 'one party rule'," one Internet posting said.
The postings, many of which appeared to have originated on overseas websites run by exiled Chinese political activists, called for protests in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and 10 other major Chinese cities.
Protesters were urged to shout slogans including "We want food to eat", "We want work", "We want housing", "We want justice", "Long live freedom", and "Long live democracy".
As the word spread on the demonstrations, numerous political dissidents and rights lawyers were placed in police custody, activists said.
"Many rights defenders have disappeared (into police custody) in recent days, others are under house arrest and their mobile phones are blocked," rights attorney Ni Yulan told AFP.
"The police detachment outside my door has increased. They follow us if we go out," Ni said of the surveillance on her and her husband.
Telephone calls to prominent rights lawyers including Teng Biao, Xu Zhiyong and Jiang Tianyong went unanswered Sunday. Friends and other activists said they had been detained by police.
Chinese authorities have sought to restrict media reports on the recent political turmoil that began in Tunisia as the "Jasmine Revolution" and spread to Egypt and across the Middle East.
Unemployment and rising prices have been key factors linked to the unrest that has also spread to Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.
Searches Sunday for "jasmine" on China's Twitter-like micro-blog Weibo produced no results, while messages on the popular Baidu search engine said that due to laws and regulations such results were unavailable.
Some Chinese Internet search pages listed "jasmine" postings but links to them were blocked.
The Chinese government has expended tremendous resources to police the Internet and block anti-government postings and other politically sensitive material with a system known as the "Great Firewall of China."
In a speech given Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao acknowledged growing social unrest and urged the ruling Communist Party to better safeguard stability while also ordering strengthened controls over "virtual society" or the Internet.
"It is necessary to strengthen and improve a mechanism for safeguarding the rights and interests of the people," Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying.
A key to achieve the goal was to "solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society... safeguard people's rights and interests, promote social justice, and sustain sound social order," he said.