Quake Parents Watched, Harassed

Chinese authorities block calls for an investigation into shoddy construction, blamed for thousands of earthquake deaths.
2011-05-06
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A Chinese woman mourns for family members who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, May 12, 2010.
AFP

Parents of thousands of schoolchildren who died during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake say they are being harassed by the authorities ahead of the three-year anniversary of the disaster.

A bereaved parent from the worst-hit town of Dujiangyan surnamed Lu said government-hired thugs had visited his tea-shop in the township twice in the last two weeks.

"I was injured," Lu said. "My arm still hurts. They got criminal gangs to come. On the first day there were three of them, and the second time there were four."

"They have sought out the landlord to try to get him to withdraw the lease on the shop."

A second parent surnamed Gao said a number of quake-bereaved parents had taken to gathering at Lu's tea-shop to drink tea and play cards.

"They are afraid of these parents gathering together," Gao said, adding that the thugs had used violence on the second occasion.

"The first time, they smashed his storage cupboard," he said. "Two days later ... they poured boiling water on his shoulders, and he was scalded."

Others targeted

A third Dujiangyan parent said he had also been targeted by a group of thugs who visited his home on April 14, smashing his door and furniture.

A mother who lost her child in the devastating May 12, 2008 quake, which killed at least 70,000 people, said a lot of parents were currently under surveillance ahead of the three-year anniversary of the disaster.

The mother, surnamed Zhou, said she was now followed by police every time she left her home, and had been warned not to talk to overseas media.

"They said I'd been meeting up with foreign media, that I had connections with foreign media," Zhou said. "They told me not to contact them again, and that if I did, they'd take me away and sentence me to two years."

"They threatened me when they detained me before with charges of running an anti-government organization," she said.

An official who answered the phone at the Juyuan township government, in the Dujiangyan district, declined to comment on the alleged attacks on parents of quake victims.

Call for investigation

Since the quake, parents have vowed to keep up pressure on Beijing for a full investigation into charges of corruption and shoddy school construction, which many say is responsible for the deaths of at least 5,300 schoolchildren in the earthquake.

Activists led by now-detained artist Ai Weiwei have campaigned to identify thousands of the children who were killed.

Ai posted the names, ordered according to their Chinese character stroke order, on his Twitter account in time for the second anniversary last year, which is followed by more than 30,000 people.

He also posted online an audio file more than three hours long in which volunteer netizens from all over China read out the names of the children who died, in a somber protest against the government’s refusal to allow any kind of public inquiry into their deaths.

Sichuan authorities have already jailed one activist, writer Tan Zuoren, after he carried out an independent investigation into the children’s deaths and published it online.

Detained Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei was named by Time magazine last month as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, amid growing calls for his release.

'Visionary' citizen

"Ai Weiwei is the kind of visionary any nation should be proud to count among its creative class," read the magazine's introduction to Ai, written by outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Jon Huntsman.

"Ai, 53, has shown compassion for his fellow citizens and spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people," Huntsman wrote.

"It is very sad that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens."

Ai's detention has drawn criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as Amnesty International and other international rights groups.

But Beijing has brushed off international criticism, saying only that Ai is under investigation for "economic crimes" and publishing articles critical of his "maverick" attitude in official media.

The social action website Change.org hosted a petition calling for the release Ai that garnered more than 90,000 signatures, but later came under attack from hackers traced to IP addresses in China.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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