Dr. Devra Marcus and human rights advocate Kody Kness, both from the Washington, D.C., area, were trying to make a humanitarian visit to Zhu Yufu, who is serving a seven-year sentence on a conviction of inciting subversion and is believed to be in poor health in the prison in Zhejiang province.
Kness said their request for a visit was denied on the ground that they are foreigners and that he and Marcus were held after he used his cellphone to take a photo outside the office of a prison functionary they had been dealing with. Kness said he wanted to photograph the office plaque to keep as a record because the functionary had refused to identify himself. But the photo-taking act apparently upset the functionary, who became furious and took away Kness' cellphone, Kness said.
"He was unapproachable, and we were apologetic," Kness said.
Marcus said they were held for about an hour, and had their passports and Kness' cellphone taken away. She said they were questioned and admonished before they were let go with their passports and the cellphone returned. Photos in Kness' cellphone were erased, she said.
Marcus and Kness have traveled to China on tourist visas and had hoped they could visit Zhu in prison.
Zhu is listed among 16 jailed Chinese prisoners whom international human rights groups are urging the Chinese government to free. Zhu, 60, is a veteran democracy activist whose latest run-in with the Chinese government was a poem calling the Chinese people into action for freedom.