A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer said Friday that Beijing police prevented him from meeting with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a sign of continuing heavy restrictions on the country's beleaguered rights advocates.
Mo Shaoping said the German Embassy invited him to a Thursday evening dinner to be followed by a private meeting with Merkel. He said the two planned to discuss China's legal environment and individual lawyers who have suffered from official harassment.
However, Mo said state security bureau agents from the Beijing police arrived at his office at about 2 p.m. Thursday and told him he could not attend the dinner or the meeting, citing the need to maintain social stability ahead of this year's Communist Party congress.
"There was no legal basis for them to restrict my freedom as a citizen," said Mo, adding that the officers were "very polite, but very firm."
"I think it was a poor decision on the part of those behind it," he said.
A second invitee from the pro-democracy community said he was able to attend the dinner and a meeting with Merkel unmolested.
Wu Si, editor-in-chief of the pro-reform online journal Yanhuang Chunqiu, said he recognized numerous people from the fields of economics, environmental protection and education at the well-attended dinner. No one from the legal profession was present, he said.
Wu said he was the sole guest at a meeting afterward attended by Merkel, the German ambassador to China, an assistant and a translator. He declined to say what topics had been discussed, citing the privacy of the occasion.
The police action against Mo draws attention to what would otherwise have been a routine meeting between the German leader and one of China's best-known rights lawyers, who has represented scores of pro-democracy activists, independent labor organizers, and political and religious dissidents.
A spokesman for Merkel, Steffen Seibert, confirmed that Mo had been blocked from the dinner, according to the German Embassy. The embassy declined to comment further. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The state security bureau's phone number is unlisted and the Beijing Public Security Bureau's spokesman's office did not immediately reply to faxed questions.
Mo said he informed the German Embassy of his inability to attend Thursday's events. He said he had run into similar interference during visits by top officials from France, the Netherlands, the U.S. and the European Union.
Chinese authorities last year tightened the screws further on the country's already closely restricted legal community. That followed online calls for an Arab-style pro-democracy uprising against Communist Party authority that resulted in the questioning, harassment and detention of scores of government critics.
Further heavy security has been imposed ahead of next fall's Communist Party congress, an event that takes place every five years at which a new generation of leaders is appointed. Crackdowns by the authorities are common ahead of major events in China.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.