Dissidents and activists have been forced to leave town or have been put under close surveillance, as the most important political meeting in five years convenes in Beijing.

China often takes measures to restrict dissenting voices during important political meetings. Before the 19th party congress kicked off in the capital on Wednesday, some said they were forbidden from speaking to journalists.

Bao Tong, the former top adviser to ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang, was not taken from his home as expected, but was prohibited from accepting interviews and writing any commentary.

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A security guard watches behind a China’s 19th Party Congress promotion billboard in Beijing on October 11, 2017. Photo: AFP/Wang Zhao.

He told US-backed Radio Free Asia on Tuesday: “I said I wasn’t interested in going anywhere, and afterwards they did not mention it… but there are rules – [I] cannot meet reporters, cannot accept interviews, cannot write articles, etc.”

Members of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of the family members of the democracy activists killed in the 1989 massacre, were put under surveillance prior to the start of the Congress.

One member said that there were police stationed at the entrances of her residential unit.

The group’s spokesperson You Weijie said that there were police stationed outside her home and the homes of several other members, “but they won’t affect your daily life. They’ve always prevented reporters from visiting.”

The group said that the political meetings had nothing to do with them, and that their demands had never changed.

You said: “Truth, compensation, and accountability is our stance, it will not change.”

Human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang tweeted a photo of himself on a high-speed train on Tuesday, saying he was “getting farther and farther away from the 19th party congress.”

Outspoken political journalist Gao Yu was taken to Hangzhou, a city known for its osmathus flowers, on Monday, an unnamed source told RFA.

Gao mentioned Pu’s photo in a tweet on Tuesday, and said: “I, too, have been smelling the fragrance of osmanthus flowers for two days.”

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Gao Yu.

Liu Xia, the widow of prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo, was forced to leave the capital, according to an unnamed family member speaking to the Hong Kong-based NGO Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

Dissident Hu Jia was also forced to travel to Yunnan. He told RFA he tried to delay the trip until the last minute as his mother was ill, but he was compelled to leave on Monday, two days before the meeting.

Human rights lawyers and their families also faced close scrutiny as the meeting convened, according to the Guardian.

Beijing-based dissident He Depu was also forced to leave town, and activist Zha Jianguo was placed under surveillance, according to RFA.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.