ACTIVIST WHO LOCKED HORNS WITH TANGSHAN MAYOR UNDER HOUSE ARREST


2004.06.07
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WASHINGTON, June 7, 2004�An activist who collected more than 10,000 signatures calling for the resignation of the Party secretary in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan is under house arrest after trying to present his petition to the country�s national parliament, RFA�s Mandarin service reports.

Former judicial official turned peasant representative Zhang Youren traveled to Beijing in late February in hope of presenting a petition of 11,283 signatures to the National People�s Congress (NPC), which convened March 5 in the capital.

�After we went to Beijing after Chinese New Year, at the end of February, the 10 representatives, they arrested us separately and brought us back to Tangshan,� Zhang said in a recent interview.

�I was the last to come back... Ever since then they�ve been watching me from morning until night. There are a few of them sitting in the car as I�m speaking to you,� Zhang said. �They�ve been watching me for more than two months. Even when I go to the toilet, they follow. Wherever I go, they follow.�

The petition called on the NPC to strip Tangshan municipal Communist Party secretary Zhang He of his status as an NPC representative, after his government failed to pay lawful compensation following a forced relocation to make way for a reservoir in 1992. Activists have since also called for his removal from office.

Most of the former residents were from a Manchu minority autonomous region near the coastal city of Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province. They said they were owed 13,000 yuan (U.S. $1,570) per household in compensation but some had received only half the amount, while some hadn�t seen a penny in 12 years.

Their attempts to seek redress have so far met with no result except for police beatings, detention, and sentences to labor camp, the activists said.

�When we complain, it�s not just that they don�t sort out the actual problem for you, they also lock you up, send you to labor camp, ... and [use] other heavy-handed measures,� Zhang said.

The petition�published on the Internet in March�cited one petitioner, Li Tie, who was tortured by Tangshan police with an electric baton and was beaten until his ribs and fingers were fractured. He was threatened with being pushed into a cremation furnace unless he agreed to drop the petition.

A further four people, including Zhang Lai, Zhang Fushan, and Li Wuping, were detained in the Tangshan Hehuakeng Labor Camp, where they suffered beatings and other abuses, the petition said.

Government officials said the evacuees had got the expected compensation figure wrong, though it was written in government guidelines in force at the time the reservoir was being planned. An official in the Qinhuangdao Relocation Bureau told RFA that an allowance of 13,000 yuan (U.S. $1,570) per person was indeed written into the relocation rules.

�But that figure didn�t just represent what the individual would get�it also included [various] fees,� the official said. �What the individual would actually get would depend on the standards used to calculate compensation and the property that they were forced to leave.�

Local police forces are frequently used as private muscle by corrupt local government officials and are increasingly pursuing those with grievances all the way to the capital, where Beijing police are loath to interfere in what they see as other cities� business.

Beijing scholar Yu Meisun, who himself narrowly escaped arrest in March after helping Zhang and the other representatives to draft their NPC petition, said the Tangshan activists made separate journeys to the capital in hope of evading their local police force and convened for a secret meeting.

�In the end they managed to get together for a meeting in Beijing, and then they realized they had around 11,000 signatures on their petition,� said Yu, who lost half his tongue and suffered gas poisoning during his escape from police.

�What they didn�t realize was the Tangshan police had found out where they were staying via the hotels registration computer network and followed them here and collared the whole lot together,� Yu said.

Meanwhile, around 1,000 of the forced evacuees had returned to their old homelands and were living in makeshift camps near the reservoir, Zhang said. Many had returned because they were unable to afford basic amenities such as housing and education in the new districts allocated to them.

�The government has taken all their old land. They�re living as best they can. There�s very little they can do. The water supply and electricity have already been cut off in their old homes. There are about 1,000 people camped out there in the hills,� he said. #####

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