HONG KONG—As Beijing goes into overdrive to prepare for next month's Olympics, Chinese authorities have intensified a crackdown on people they don't want to see in the capital until the Games are over.
China's thousands of petitioners—people trying to lodge complaints over alleged wrongdoing by officials in their home region—are major targets. When lawsuits and local complaint procedures fail to win redress, thousands of petitioners try to take their cases directly to the capital. They are often intercepted en route by local police.
Those who get as far as the three main complaints offices in central Beijing have rarely been welcomed in the past, and have often been subjected to endless stonewalling and form-filling by officials. Since preparations began for the Olympics, however, they have been met with row upon row of official vehicles, armed police, and public security officials from around the country.
"There were 20 or 30 vehicles to collect us petitioners from Heilongjiang alone," a woman from the northeastern province said in an interview this week. "There were People's Armed Police and People's Liberation Army soldiers there too, all lined up. It was pretty scary, and we didn't dare to go in there."
"People were being invited in to discuss their cases and then were being detained and taken away via the back door. I saw this happening today, so I ran away and hid for fear of being detained," she said.
One petitioner, Wu Tianli, said some petitioners had initially been surprised by what appeared to be a warm reception at the central government complaints offices in Beijing, where they were told to come into the center and register their personal details.
Change in tactics
"They don't stop anybody going in now," said Wu, who said this was a sudden change in attitude from complaints office officials. "Anyone can go in, and then they have to join a queue to get a form. Basically the way it works is once you have gone in, they won't let you out again."
"Then they take them off in small groups to Majialou, which is a sort of processing center for petitioners. There are officials from every province and major city there, and they take the petitioners back to their hometowns."
A petitioner surnamed Liu, who also visited the complaints office of the Supreme People's Court in Beijing this week, said security guards at the scene had told people openly what was going on.
"The security guard there told me, and I actually saw it myself too. The petitioners could only go into the office, but they weren't allowed out again," he said. "When they were done inside, they were detained and taken out through a rear entrance."
He said the petitioners were taken from the Supreme Court to the the complaints offices of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the State Council, where there was a bus waiting for them.
"The security guards told me that as soon as you even walk into the alleyway where the complaints office is, you wouldn't be allowed to leave again. There were a lot of security guards stationed at both ends of the alley to stop people getting out again."
Rows of official vehicles
"Most of the old-timers didn't go in there, but a lot of the relatively inexperienced ones got pulled in and rounded up."
Calls to the central government complaints office went unanswered during office hours Tuesday.
A petitioner surnamed Zhao said the scene was dramatic. "Things were a lot tougher at the Supreme People's Court and the NPC and State Council petition offices...People were going in there and being taken directly to one of the petitioner processing centers."
"It was pretty dramatic. There were a lot of official vehicles, as if there was a big official meeting on or something. I heard the petitioners were being taken straight back to their hometowns this time."
The authorities also appear to be trying to curb the numbers of migrant workers allowed into the capital, suspending regular labor recruitment fairs in the city until after the Games are over.
A recruitment fair organizer surnamed Wang said all organizers of such events had been sent a directive from the Beijing municipal government ordering them to suspend activities for two months.
Jobs fairs suspended
"We have been asked to suspend operations," Wang said. "This is very recent. We are allowed to resume on Sept. 20. So that is what we are going to do. Whatever they decide, we will implement it."
Hong Kong media reports said migrant workers were being told to relocate to far-off suburbs of Beijing until September. However, an official who answered the phone at the Beijing municipal labor bureau did not confirm this.
"I don't know how to answer your question," he said. "Because I haven't seen any administrative orders saying that migrant workers aren't allowed."
Meanwhile, Beijing-based petitioner and rights activist Ye Guozhu, who was jailed for four years in 2004 for trying to organize a mass march of petitioners on Tiananmen Square, was due to be released from Tianjin's Chaobai Prison on Saturday.
His brother, Ye Guoqiang, said he was unsure whether he would be welcoming his brother home, however.
"I have just had a call from the Chaobai Prison saying that Ye Guozhu has been taken back to Beijing. They told us that we should call at the district police station to collect him," he said.
"But when I called the police station, they said they didn't know anything about it. So I wonder what they're playing at. Then I thought perhaps they've taken him to a hotel until the Olympics are over."
"But that really would be a human rights disaster, wouldn't it? Once the man has served his time, he should be set free," Ye Guoqiang said.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan, and in Cantonese by Lee Wing-tim. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.