Thirteen protesters staged a mass suicide attempt in the Chinese capital after a failed bid to win compensation over forced eviction from their home left them feeling their lives were no longer worth living, activists said on Wednesday.
Eight evictees were off the critical list while the rest were incommunicado a day after the group drank pesticide simultaneously in protest at their treatment by the local government following their forced eviction three years ago in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, they said.
Photos of the scene showed the evictees slumped to the ground along a wall on Tuesday, with police nearby.
They were rushed to hospital after timing their protest to coincide with Human Rights Day.
"I chose Human Rights Day to kill myself," evictee and suicide protester Mei Cuiying told RFA's Mandarin Service.
"We bought the pesticide in Beijing. There were police at the scene when we drank it. We had written about our individual cases on paper sheets, and the police took them away and tore them up."
Mei said she and seven others were off the critical list on Wednesday.
"I am a bit better than yesterday," she said. "There are still three people whom we haven't been able to contact since we were all dragged onto the ambulance yesterday," she added, naming them as Chai Huiqin, Wen Yuxiang, and He Xuejuan.
A second evictee, Wang Yuping, said she had lost the will to live after attempts to fight for her rights led nowhere.
"We drank pesticide, which is poisonous, and now we've been transferred to People's Liberation Army Hospital No. 307," Wang said. "I feel dizzy. I have very severe vomiting and I am on a drip."
"Yesterday was Human Rights Day," she said. "We thought there was no point in continuing to live."
"We don't have jobs. We have nothing," Wang said. "To begin with, we spread out our petition documents on the ground for people to see, to make our point, and then we felt so despairing and had no desire to go on living."
"Once we felt like that, we drank [the pesticide]. We all drank it at the same time," said Wang, who said she felt 'numb and exhausted' from the years of petitioning local, provincial, and central authorities.
Mei said her experience had been similar.
"After my home was demolished, I filed lawsuits to no avail," she said. "I have been to Beijing several times, but the local government won't respond, and I am physically and mentally exhausted."
"A home that it took me 40 years to earn has been stripped away from me in a single day," she said.
Eviction problem growing
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, according to a recent report by rights group Amnesty International.
Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of self-immolation from 2009 to 2011 alone due to forced evictions. That compares to fewer than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.
Nearly half of all rural residents have had land forcibly taken from them, with the number of cases on the rise, according to a 2011 study by the Landesa Rural Development Institute.
Police flung a tight security cordon around many of the attempted suicide activists, fellow petitioners said.
"We only managed to visit two people," Shandong petitioner Liu Fuhe said after trying to visit the group in hospital. "They wouldn't let us see the rest of them."
Liu said there was a strong police presence at the hospital.
"A lot of police came rushing over," he said. "They were very rude, and they snatched away our cell phones and deleted the photos and video we'd taken, and they wouldn't let us take them back."
China's army of petitioners files nearly 20,000 grievances in person every day to complaints offices across the country, according to official figures released last week.
The government's complaints website currently receives around 1,200 complaints on any working day online, many of them linked to forced evictions.
The number of ordinary Chinese traveling to Beijing to pursue grievances against the government typically swells ahead of key dates, as petitioners hope their cases will get a more sympathetic hearing.
Instead, many say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by the authorities if they try to petition a higher level of government.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.