Fourteen activists withdraw bid to run in People's Congress district elections

The activists detail a litany of police harassment, threats, and enforced 'travel' under police escort.
By Cheng Yut Yiu
2021.11.01
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Fourteen activists withdraw bid to run in People's Congress district elections Li Wenzu and Wang Qiaoling are shown (first and second from right) with Yuan Shanshan and Liu Ermin on Dec. 17, 2018 after they shaved their heads to protest the detention of their husbands in a crackdown on rights lawyers and activists in 2015.
AFP

More than a dozen rights activists who planned to run as candidates in elections for district-level People's Congresses have withdrawn their candidacy after being targeted by an intimidation campaign.

Fourteen activists, many of whom campaigned on behalf of family members detained in a nationwide operation targeting human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015, had announced their plan in an Oct. 15 declaration.

But just four days ahead of the poll, would-be candidates including Li Wenzu, Wang Qiaoling, and Ye Jinghuan issued a joint statement saying that all 14 are withdrawing, citing fears for their personal safety.

Since they went public about their candidacy, around 10 activists have been placed under round-the-clock police surveillance, while some have been summoned to their local police station for a "chat," and others forced to leave town under police escort and wait out the election at a tourist resort, the statement said.

"The Beijing municipal police has set up a team to handle our candidacy, and the results will be known in two months' time," the statement quoted one person as saying. 

"We have been a bit terrified by [the authorities' response to] this election," it added.

Others had been threatened with eviction by their local government, and many of the 14 were forced to call a halt to campaign activities, as police told them that to proceed would be "dangerous" at the current time.

Most of the 14 candidates couldn't be reached at their regular cell phone numbers on Monday, but RFA did succeed in speaking briefly to Ye Jinghuan.

"I can't give you an interview, because it's not convenient for me to talk about this right now, for a number of different reasons," Ye said.

"Inconvenience" is frequently used by Chinese activists as a veiled reference to police surveillance or official coercion.

"The reasons for our withdrawal were all given in the statement."

Meanwhile, would-be independent local elections candidates in the central province of Hubei said they were unable to get hold of the form needed to record endorsements, the first step in the process to become a candidate.

"The authorities will do everything in their power to stop ordinary people from taking part in these elections, because they're afraid that the people will bring the truth, their opinions about the state of the nation, and further ideas about political participation to the district People's Congresses," Hubei-based petitioner-turned-activist Wu Lijuan told RFA.

Li Wenzu, wife of formerly jailed rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had been under pressure from the landlord, who had previously been happy to renew the lease, to leave the apartment her family calls home.

"We just got stopped by a bunch of people who were told not to let us in," Li said. "All of the cars next to us were allowed in, one after the other, no problem."

Tight police surveillance

Fellow would-be candidates Liu Xiuzhen, Zhu Xiuling, and Wang Xiuzhen have reported being placed under tight police surveillance, while Li Hairong and Guo Qizeng posted WeChat messages saying that officials in their hometown of Shibalidian had started proceedings to demolish their homes since they announced their candidacy.

Xi told an Oct. 13 meeting of the People's Congress work conference in Beijing that more work was needed to "improve the People's Congress system ... [and] continuously develop people's democracy."

But while Xi has made much of China's own-brand of "whole process" democracy, drawing a distinction with Western democratic systems, state media have warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, with candidates all needing the prior approval of the CCP.

Local elections will be held across the Beijing municipal area on Nov. 5 to return nearly five thousand district People's Congress representatives and more than 10,000 township People's Congress representatives.

But apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.

Constitutional expert Yao Lifa once succeeded in being elected to the Qianjiang municipal People's Congress in 1998, where he used his platform to criticize government policy.

But after a 10-year struggle to get elected, he was shunted aside five years later and has been subjected to official retaliation ever since, including secret detention, torture and starvation, according to his wife.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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