As millions of Chinese schoolchildren and college students were back in class at the start of the new academic year on Monday, the children of some dissidents and critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party continue to be denied access to education, activists told RFA.
Grassroots activist Ran Chongbi, who has previously been detained by Chinese police for her support of the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, said her school-age daughter has been barred from attending state-run schools for the past five years.
Ran, who once ran an unofficial school for the children of evictees and other long-term petitioners in Beijing's Fengtai district, in a bid to address the problem, called on the authorities to allow her daughter and the children of around a dozen other families to go back to full-time study.
“I have had a number of calls from the government and from the school principals to inform me that there is nothing they can do about it,” Ran said, on the first day of China’s fall semester. “They just keep telling me that my kid isn’t allowed to attend school.”
“My child has committed no crime, and her schooling has nothing to do with my complaints about the government’s injustices,” she said. “My kid shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush, and inherit the status of ‘petitioner’.”
Ran tried home-schooling her own and other petitioners’ children last year in a rented apartment in a Beijing suburb, in a bid to solve the problem.
But the school was soon ordered to leave the premises, after pressure was put on the landlord of the apartment.
Ran, who once traveled to Hong Kong with the intention of self-immolating over the 2008 rape of her then five-year-old daughter, had planned to teach a different curriculum to that laid down by the education ministry.
“My child is the future of this country, and … the government has a duty to educate her,” she said. “President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are always talking about not allowing the poorest peasant families to end up on the streets,” she said.
Pressure on petitioners
Fellow petitioner Hao Huanglin said all children should have the right to attend school, regardless of who their parents are.
“The authorities react [to petitioners] with persecution and detention,” Hao said. “Now they are saying we can’t send our kids to school.”
“It doesn’t matter which schools we apply to; they won’t enroll them.”
Hao said the government seems to be insisting that petitioners end their rights campaigning and return to their hometowns.
“They are trying to force us to leave [Beijing],” she said.
Authorities in the eastern province of Anhui last week released rights activist Zhang Lin from a three-year jail term on public order charges after he campaigned publicly for his daughters to be allowed to attend school.
Anni and her elder sister Ruli left China for California after their father's arrest in August 2013, where they were taken in by Reggie Littlejohn, founder of the Women's Rights Without Frontiers rights group, and granted political asylum.
Anni was dubbed "China's youngest prisoner of conscience" after she was taken out of school by state security police and detained for several hours in February 2013, and prevented from attending school during her father’s house arrest.
After his daughters’ escape, Zhang and three fellow activists were jailed for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” for their role in the campaign for Zhang Anni’s place in school.
However, Zhang Lin’s whereabouts are still unknown following his release, indicating that he may still be under police surveillance, rights groups said.
Reported by Goh Fung and Hai Nan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Kou Tianli for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.