Campaigner Detained in Beijing

While most families celebrate the lunar new year, Chinese petitioners brave the cold in the capital.

petitionernewyear305.jpg Petitioners gather for dinner at the Beijing home of Liu Anjun during the lunar new year.
Liu Anjun

As millions of Chinese sat down on Wednesday to a lavish New Year dinner and a glitzy annual show on state-run broadcaster CCTV, Beijing police detained the organizer of an alternative gala event for the thousands of homeless people pursuing official complaints in the capital.

Event organizer Jiang Jiawen, a petitioner from the northeastern city of Dandong, was taken away by police in the early hours of Tuesday morning, fellow petitioners said.

"He has been forcibly returned to his hometown," said Jiang's friend Liu Chunbao. "Jiang Jiawen was held in the police station after he was taken away, and he stayed in touch with me throughout."

"Local officials forced him to return home."

According to the "Rights Movement" website, more than 10 officers from the Zhangguozhuang police station in the southern district of Fengtai were sent to detain Jiang, including some national security police.

It said police also searched Jiang's living quarters, confiscating his computer and various documents.

'Five or six' planned

Petitioner and rights campaigner Liu Anjun said the authorities were afraid that the performance would bring the plight of petitioners to the public's attention.

"They are afraid that the extreme hardship suffered by petitioners will become known," Liu said. "So they are stamping this out beyond all possibility of return."

But he said Jiang's event wasn't the only one being prepared in the capital.

"I know of five or six that were planned," he said. "They won't be able to wipe out all of them."

Liu said many petitioners are struggling to survive on the streets of Beijing, amid the lunar new year festivities.

"A petitioner called Feng Xixia who is in Beijing petitioning with her two children just called me to say that they have nothing to eat," Liu said.

"She wanted me to help them ... The officials from her hometown said they didn't care and wouldn't do anything about it."

"A lot of petitioners are sleeping rough in the subways and underpasses right now," he added.

Little to look forward to

China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.

Many have been trying to win redress for alleged cases of official wrongdoing—including forced evictions, beatings in custody, and corruption linked to lucrative land sales—for decades.

For many, there is little to look forward to in the Year of the Rabbit.

"We haven't celebrated the New Year," said Beijing-based petitioner Zhang Shufeng. "We spend our whole time petitioning."

"Everyone else is having a happy time at New Year, but no one in our family knows what that feels like."

Zhang has been petitioning the authorities for redress since her husband was left crippled after a beating by officials when he tried to complain about his daughter's treatment in school.

Since then, the authorities had cut off electricity, water, and other services to the family home, and her daughter's career prospects had been ruined, Zhang added.

"What have I got to be happy about? I've been petitioning for 12 years," she said.

Official visits

Official media showed footage of premier Wen Jiabao visiting rural families in the former revolutionary stronghold of Jinzhai country, in the eastern province of Anhui.

"Wen visited Zhaoyuan village and called in on farmer Zhao Mengqi. Wen chatted with Zhao, asking about his family's income and their preparations for the lunar new year," Xinhua reported.

He told villagers: "Our objective is to make you feel secure."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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