Police in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have busted a group it said organized mass protests in an attempt to sway court cases and influence sentences, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The group paid a "relatively regular" group of people to stage protests ostensibly about protecting the rights of petitioners and lawyers working on their behalf, Xinhua said late on Sunday.
It named two of the people police detained as Zhai Yanmin, 54, who paid people to stage the protests, and lawyer Liu Jianjun, who hoped to influence judges trying his cases with the protests, the report said.
"The group was close-knitted with specific assignments for its members, and their activities were seen in heated cases across the country," Xinhua said, in a report that was also posted on the Ministry of Public Security's website.
The protesters held up banners and signs, shouted slogans and "hyped up" what was happening on Chinese and overseas websites, it added.
Tens of thousands of "mass incidents" - the usual euphemism for protests - occur each year in China, triggered by corruption, pollution, illegal land grabs and other grievances, unnerving the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party.