China Detains Hundreds of Veterans Ahead of Third Plenum

2013-11-05
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Retired Chinese military officers from Sichuan province tour Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Sept. 20, 2013.
AFP

Chinese authorities have stepped up security measures in the run-up to a sensitive political meeting at the weekend, detaining hundreds of people who have converged on Beijing to air grievances against the government, according to activists.

Police and officials have already detained or intercepted more than 300 former People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers who were hoping to have their cases heard ahead of the third plenary session of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee led by President Xi Jinping.

"Basically, more than 300 people have been sent home under escort, while more than 1,000 are under tight surveillance or house arrest by authorities in all cities, provinces and autonomous regions," Sun Enwei, a PLA veteran from the eastern province of Zhejiang, told RFA's Mandarin Service.

"So there is no way they can make it to Beijing."

Sun said there are currently "thousands" of military petitioners across China who wish to pursue complaints that promises of jobs and pensions after their demobilization from the PLA haven't been honored by the government.

"We chose to petition ahead of the Third Plenum, because petitioning at other times doesn't do any good," he said.

Veteran hardships

Large numbers of PLA veterans say they are now suffering extreme economic hardship in spite of their service to the nation, giving rise to their slogan, "No money for the doctor, nowhere to turn for help," activists say.

Since 2008, the government has stripped away the status of PLA veterans and former military cadres, leaving thousands with no income at all.

Retired military personnel have been cited by officials and activists as a highly sensitive sector of the population, who might swing a tide of public opinion in their favor and against the Communist Party because of their proven loyalty to Party and country.

Meanwhile, Xu Lingyong, a disabled petitioner from the northern province of Shaanxi, said Beijing's low-budget guesthouses are currently packed with petitioners with all manner of grievances who have also pinned their hopes of a fair hearing on the Third Plenum.

However, many were rounded up by police and taken to Majialou, an unofficial detention center on the outskirts of the capital this week, Xu said.

"They used security guards and police officers to force us onto buses," he said. "They are clearing all those who come from other cities and provinces out of Beijing."

"The local police were enforcing this very strictly ... They say that they represent [social] instability."

Third Plenum

While President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang have promised a further round of reforms at the plenum, which runs in Beijing from Nov. 9-12, their comments have largely targeted structural economic problems like industrial overcapacity and retraining for millions of workers laid off from traditional state-run industries.

"[The Third Plenum] has given petitioners some hope, after so many years of pursuing complaints, that things won't always stay the same ... now that the new leadership has taken power," Hebei-based petitioner Cai Zhiguo said in an interview on Monday.

"They hope to see some obvious changes at the Third Plenum."

The number of ordinary Chinese traveling to Beijing to pursue grievances against the government typically swells ahead of key political 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.

On Oct. 1, authorities in Beijing detained hundreds of petitioners after they tried to protest in Tiananmen Square to mark the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The petitioners had converged on the square separately, with no overt organization, in small groups, evading a network of police checkpoints and searches across the city.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.