A Long, Hard Road For Chinas Petitioners

2005-05-11
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Beijing, June 1998. An old man holds up a large petition against alleged abuses of power by a top court official, the first character of which reads 'Unjust'. Photo: AFP/Stephen Shaver

HONG KONG—Thousands of petitioners head to Beijing every year to plead their cases. Many of them have spent years, even decades, in the pursuit of justice and redress for their grievances.

Their stories are both painfully personal, and utterly representative of thousands of other ordinary Chinese people who allege they have been cheated and abused by those in power.

Here are some of the voices heard recently on RFA's Mandarin service, as it continues to follow the fate of China's petitioners:

The Grieving Mother: Li Guifen, 63, Beijing.

They didn't inform the family of my daughter's death until 22 hours after she died [in the police station]. They said she had tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose. I said, my daughter was going to get her money back. Why would she commit suicide? The police station chief got involved, trying to get money for us from [her policeman boyfriend] and their family...he said we couldn't see the body until we had signed a document saying that we accepted that the cause of death was suicide, enabling the police to close the case.

We didn't sign, and they didn't give us any money. Then the station chief secretly disposed of the body when the relatives were going to see it. He has always tried to suppress the truth, concocting stories...We were very suspicious of the different stories they made up concerning exactly how my daughter died.

We were very suspicious of the different stories they made up concerning exactly how my daughter died.

It's been seven years since my daughter died, and I have had no redress. The station chief and [her former boyfriend] are buddies, who look out for each other...We don't even have a death certificate...Her body is still frozen in the morgue...I haven't taken her son to see his mother, but he has been asking for his mother. Festivals, lunar new year and so forth, those are the hardest times...He doesn't talk much these days.

The Lawyer: Pu Zhiqiang, Beijing.

The trouble with this is, that because this case involves the Tiyuguan Road police station, the question of the reliability of its own evidence becomes a big problem...It often happens that the police will cover up evidence of their own wrongdoing, which perhaps they have indulged in as a way of getting back at ordinary citizens. It's a major problem with the impartiality of the judicial system in China.

The Public Voice of Government: Parliamentary complaints hotline, Beijing.

Hello. Welcome to the Complaints Office of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. We are located at 1B, West Yongdingmen Street, Beijing. You can reach us on the 66 bus route, or on the 20 bus route from Beijing Railway Station, or bus route 40 from the Western Railway Station.

Letters should be sent to Comrade Leaders, the Standing Committee of National People's Congress. Thank-you for your cooperation.

The Woman in the Doorway: Ju Hongyi, homeless, Beijing.

It's been nine years since our family was evicted. My hair has gone grey in that time. The effect of being turned away for such a long time—it's really hard to find the courage to live. I no longer have any real hope of getting justice.

There are strong spring winds in Beijing at the moment. When it's not blowing too hard, I live at No. 22 Xi'anmen Street, in the doorway of the agency that demolished our home, the internal adminstration bureau of the State Council.

I couldn't get up today. I'm aching all over. I think I've caught a chill. Every night I sleep out of doors on the ground. The police won't let me stay at anyone's house, because I'm a petitioner.

There is nowhere to go from here. The law is no use at all. Government officials coldly avert their eyes, pass the buck, tell lies, trick you, threaten and harass you.

There is nowhere to go from here. The law is no use at all. Government officials coldly avert their eyes, pass the buck, tell lies, trick you, threaten and harass you.

I think the government has begun to crack down on petitioner village now. It's very chaotic, with a lot of people living in terrible conditions. At times they have 20-30 people packed into a small room of just 10 square meters...Only people with a pretty major case would put up with such conditions to go to Beijing and pursue it.

Some of the petitioners from other parts of China have been pursuing their cases for decades. Their lives are really tough. Often they have to live by scavenging, picking up food from the market that would otherwise be thrown out. I have seen people eat buns which have gone mouldy. All of this I have seen with my own eyes.

The Government Official: State Council internal affairs bureau

I expect the person in charge of such matters would know. I'm just a duty officer. It's not as if they would tell everybody about it, now would they? I don't know anything about it.

The Policeman: Gu Zexu, Public Security Bureau, Shanghai.

Our judicial appraisal processes lack impartiality...Sometimes those with responsibility for bringing a case are directly affected by the case, for example if the Public Security Bureau has responsiblity for bringing a case which directly affects its own interests...of course this will give rise to situations in which the organ with responsibility for bringing the case will say, "Well, this case is appraised in this way because I say so, and I'm the one appraising it."

Ordinary Chinese people are highly suspicious of the way cases are set up in the judicial system now. The process has lost credibility.

So ordinary Chinese people are highly suspicious of the way cases are set up in the judicial system now. The process has lost credibility...This has become a problem. So that even in cases where the case is correctly handled, there will still be resentment. This causes great conflict.

The Bankrupt Businesswoman: Xu Jimei, Shanghai.

It's really too terrible. They have taken all our money, they have taken all our things. We haven't managed to get a result, after running around all over the place, petitioning here there and everywhere.

Five or six of them set upon him like a pack of wolves...we have been beaten up, sworn at. Where can we go now?

It's been so, so difficult...we didn't sign documents for anything and they didn't even tell us they would take it. We've taken it to the municipal government, we've taken it to central government. We can't let it rest like this, but what can we do?

They took us inside the police station...They didn't look like they were attacking him but they did. His arm was swollen where they had grabbed it. Five or six of them set upon him like a pack of dogs...we have been beaten up, sworn at. What can we do? We've got no-one to help us.

The Evictee: Mu Wen, retiree, Nanjing.

I went to the Supreme People's Court, and they told me to wait patiently, because they couldn't process all the cases with only four or five judges in the court. I said to them, I've already been waiting for more than 10 years. How much longer do you want me to wait?

I said to them, I've already been waiting for more than 10 years. How much longer do you want me to wait?

The laws on relocation were not drafted from a point of view of fairness and justice, but from the point of view of the interests of developers...There is widespread corruption, and the problem is especially bad when government departments are involved as well.

I've pretty much lost confidence in these things now. Because I've been to a few government departments, and they're all the same. They don't undertake this work sincerely. They pass the buck, stonewall you. It's the same everywhere.

In the past, it was the people's government for the people. Are they doing any good deeds on behalf of the people? No, they're not...They send a letter to officials lower down, and they send it back to the higher-ups, and so it goes on. The entire system to deal with complaints and petitions can't do anything about the problem because they don't have the power to do anything.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Bai Fan and An Pei. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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