China keeps protesters at bay as parliament meets
Jack Zhang, one of thousands of people who lost access to their savings in a rural bank scandal, recently tried to go to Beijing to lodge a complaint with the national public complaints body, ahead of China's parliamentary session.
But when he was trying to board a high-speed train from Hunan province in southern China to Beijing at the end of February, 12 people identifying themselves as police and government employees stopped him, he said.
"They created a human wall," Zhang said.
He left the station and managed to board from a different station, hiding in the train's bathroom, before being apprehended by eight people and held in a hotel for two days.
China has long tightened security in Beijing ahead of the National People's Congress - an annual parliamentary session being held this week - and other big events, taking steps to head off potential agitators or others who might create a disturbance from travelling to the capital.
Three other depositors who lost money when at least $US1.5 billion ($A2.2 billion) in funds were frozen last April - a fraud that sparked numerous protests - also reported attempts to curtail their movements, from having tracking devices fitted to their cars to being barricaded into their homes.
While many customers with small deposits have been repaid by financial authorities in Henan, others from around China who placed large amounts with the small lenders are still owed significant sums.
They became known to authorities after they travelled to Henan to try to withdraw their funds.
China has a low tolerance for group displays of discontent, even if anger is not directed against the government.
Some of those who spoke with Reuters declined to use their full names due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The Ministry of Public Security could not be reached for requests for comment.
The Shanghai, Zhejiang and Hunan province foreign affairs departments did not respond to or could not be immediately reached for requests for comment.
Last month, a depositor in Shanghai surnamed Dong found what he believed to be a tracking device stuck to his car and filed a police report.
Soon, at least six people started sleeping in their cars outside his building, following him every time he left, Dong told Reuters.
"As soon as they see me getting in the car, they will get in theirs," he said.
"They've asked me not to go to Beijing," he said, adding that he had not planned to travel to the capital.
Depositors have reported numerous attempts by authorities to limit their movement since they lost their savings and started drawing attention to their plight.
Last year, authorities used mobile phone health codes to prevent bank depositor protesters from leaving their homes, and a protest in the Henan capital Zhengzhou was violently broken up by security personnel.
A retired depositor in Shaoxing, in Zhejiang province, said while she has not encountered violence, limits to her freedom of movement have been extreme.
"They won't let me leave, (they) use their car to barricade me," she said, adding that she had requested permission to head to Beijing in the middle of February, to file a complaint.
She says she has been under constant surveillance by local authorities since the middle of last year, which is why she has to get approval to leave the city.
"I have no quality of life. I'm just alive," she said.