'I Don't Know What Kind of Poison They Drank'

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View of the Harbin West Railway Station in Heilongjiang province, Dec. 1, 2012.

On Aug. 13, 21 petitioners from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang tried to commit group suicide in Beijing after the government ignored official promises to find jobs for their grown children. According to the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the petitioners attempted mass suicide by drinking pesticide while all wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Harbin Railways Bureau." Fellow petitioner Wang Juan, a retired worker from the same employer, tells the story behind the tragedy:

Everywhere it is possible to go to petition, we have petitioned there. The government has a new policy now, because it's having trouble recruiting enough people to the military for national defense. So they issued a new directive establishing a new set of rules about demobilized military personnel. The State Council and the Central Military Commission issued it on July 24. We took this directive to the Harbin Railways Bureau, and they told us it was fake.

There was nothing we could do. So we all went to Beijing on Monday. The parents who went to Beijing all visited the railways ministry, where they refused to meet with them. That's why this [mass suicide attempt] happened. I don't actually know what kind of poison they drank."

I don't know what is going on with them right now. I don't know who is in a critical condition. I and the other parents from the northeast are really worried. We can't get through to the cell phones of any of the Beijing petitioners, and we don't know how many of them are in the hospital. We are getting ready to go to Beijing and visit them.

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

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