China's Quake Parents 'Dragged Away' From Memorials For Children

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Residents give offerings before the Sichuan earthquake monument on the 5th anniversary of the disaster in Yingxiu township of Wenchuan county, May 12, 2013.
Residents give offerings before the Sichuan earthquake monument on the 5th anniversary of the disaster in Yingxiu township of Wenchuan county, May 12, 2013.

Parents of children who died in collapsed school buildings in the massive 2008 Sichuan earthquake clashed with police on Monday after they tried to hold a public memorial for victims of the disaster.

Around 200 bereaved parents in Dujiangyan city, one of the worst-hit areas near the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu, were confronted by police ahead of a planned ceremony for their children, who died in the collapse of the Juyuan Middle School.

A bereaved parent surnamed Fan said clashes broke out after the crowd tried to burst in past a police cordon at the site.

"They got there at around 6.00 a.m., and they wouldn't let anyone in," Fan said. "They even beat us up."

"There were one or two hundred of us, and we tried to shove through by force, and they wouldn't let us," he said, adding, "They dragged one person away."

Since the quake, parents have tried to keep up pressure on Beijing for a full investigation into the deaths of at least 5,300 schoolchildren in the worst-hit areas.

The May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake killed more than 80,000 people and flattened swathes of southwest China, leaving millions homeless.

'Excuses to stop us'

Bereaved parent Zhou Xinrong, who has been repeatedly harassed and detained by police for her activism, said parents went to lay wreaths at the site of the old middle school building on Monday before being stopped by police.

"They said there were disaster relief exercises taking place in Dujiangyan ... but they were just finding excuses to stop us from getting to the site," Zhou said.

"Now a lot of us are staging a sit-in just outside, and we have been shoved back behind the police cordon by them a number of times."

"They won't let us get close," she said. "They're not doing exercises; they're just standing guard there, behind their police tape."

"The parents come here every year, but they never let us in," she said.

A parent surnamed Lu said some parents had also been prevented from lighting incense and burning paper offerings for their dead children.

"We wanted to burn paper offerings, but they came over in the water truck ... a lot of people came to drag us away," Lu said.

"I was dragged away by several people, and my wrists and ankles still hurt," she said. "A lot of people were weeping at the time."

An officer who answered the phone at the Dujiangyan police department declined to comment, however.

"I don't know about this," the officer said.

No inquiry held

Meanwhile, parents in Sichuan's Mianzhu county said that an official inquiry promised by the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never been implemented,

Around 100 parents who lost children in the quake marched to city government buildings in Mianzhu, at the heart of the disaster zone, calling for an official probe into the widespread collapse of school buildings during the quake, which killed more than 5,000 schoolchildren.

"The parents all went to the Mianzhu municipal government today," bereaved parent Sang Jun told RFA. "There were about 100 of us."

"We wanted to complain to the government ... that the exhaustive inquiry into shoddy building construction, as promised by [former premier] Wen Jiabao, never took place."

Photos of the protest posted on Chinese social media sites showed police officers registering personal details of the petitioners.

However, local leaders declined to meet with the parents, Sang said. "It was just some low-ranking people [who came out]."

Parents beaten, detained

While China's official media has hailed the province's reconstruction in the wake of the disaster a success, victims—especially parents who lost schoolchildren—say they have been harassed, beaten, and detained in their fight to be heard.

Meanwhile, police were also on guard outside the Dujiangyan government building, a separate group protesting forced evictions in the wake of the earthquake said on Monday.

"There were 24 of us who went, all of whom were forcibly evicted after the May 12 earthquake," a protester surnamed Wu told RFA.

"The police were at the gates and they wouldn't let us come up to the barriers, but forced the villagers to stay about 50 meters back from the main gate," she said.

She said repeated official promises to rehouse local evictees had come to nothing.

"They just keep promising, but they never sort it out," Wu said. "It has dragged out all this time."

The bereaved families say they want an inquiry into allegations of shoddy construction of "bean curd" school buildings, many of which collapsed while other buildings remained standing.

Lawyers warned away

But lawyers have been warned off accepting cases linked to Sichuan's child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice.

Sichuan-based rights activist and writer Tan Zuoren, along with fellow activist Huang Qi, were both handed jail terms for subversion after they tried to investigate the collapse of school buildings during the 8.0 magnitude earthquake.

Tan, 59, arrived back at his Chengdu home after his March 27 release, but has been held under house arrest ever since, his friend Yang Yu said last week.

On his release, he told RFA that he would continue his unfinished probe into corruption allegations surrounding the collapse of school buildings in the 2008 quake.

"I'm not a parent of a student [who was killed], and I'm not their representative, either. All I can do is carry out an independent investigation as a citizen," Tan said in an April 15 interview.

"I will continue to exercise my right to freedom of expression and opinion," he said.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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