Thousands of Petitioners Flood Chinese Capital During Top-Level Meeting

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Detained petitioners are taken by police to waiting buses in Beijing, Oct. 23, 2016.
Detained petitioners are taken by police to waiting buses in Beijing, Oct. 23, 2016.
Photo sent by a petitioner

Thousands of people converged on Beijing with complaints, while political activists were held under house arrest at the start of a high-level political meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Monday.

The petitioners, who hail from across China, gathered outside government complaints offices in the hope of winning redress for long-running complaints against local officials, as the sixth plenary session of the 18th Party Congress opened in Beijing.

"There were about 200-300 people there today, as well as a lot of plainclothes police," petitioner Jiang Jiawen told RFA. "As soon as the petitioners got off the bus, they would be stopped and searched and questioned."

"Most of the petitioners were escorted away today."

She said police had sealed off the streets 200-300 meters from the sixth plenum venue, so that petitioners had no way to approach it.

A second petitioner said authorities were detaining petitioners from among a crowd of around 1,000 who outside the complaints office of China's cabinet, the State Council, on Monday.

"I am still getting threatening phone calls ... saying they are going to detain me," Shandong petitioner Gao Hongyi told RFA. "I told them, go right ahead. I'm not scared."

"I also saved someone from my hometown who was about to be taken away by the interceptors," she said. "I told them I would take photos and post them online if they took him away against his will."

'Chats' with the police

Asked why the petitioners had picked the date of the plenum to pursue their complaints, Gao said: "We have come to visit the Communist Party because we want to draw attention to our situation."

Gao said officials in her home city of Qingdao and Shandong's provincial capital Jinan had refused to act on her complaint.

"That's why we're all here," she said, adding that a number of fellow petitioners from Shandong had either been detained en route to Beijing or prevented from leaving home by surveillance teams.

Police have also detained or placed under house arrest at least 18 political activists who are trying to run as candidates in forthcoming elections to their local-level legislatures, or People's Congresses.

Beijing resident Ye Jinghuan, who recently tried to register as a candidate in elections to the Xicheng District People's Congress, said she has been repeatedly questioned since Sunday in enforced "chats" with local police.

"I was visited by some police officers from my local police station and some from the district police department who wanted to have a chat with me, to tell me not to attend an information event at the home of Yang Lingyun in Dongcheng district," Ye said.

"Since then, I have been taking certain measures, but some people have been whisked away on enforced vacations away from Beijing, while others have been prevented from leaving their homes by [police] blocking their door," she said.

"[They] also told me not to give interviews to foreign media."

Under house arrest

Fellow would-be election candidate Wang Xiuzhen confirmed to RFA that she is currently under house arrest at her home in Beijing's Chaoyang district.

"I didn't manage to go [to the event] today," Wang said. "They are sitting out there in the hallway waiting for me, and they won't let me go out."

"I can't go to Yang Lingyun's place for the event, and I can't even go out to buy groceries," she said.

An official who answered the phone at the Beijing People's Congress standing committee offices on Monday said she couldn't help.

"It's meaningless for you to tell me this," she said when asked about the status of the would-be candidates. "You can report this to the central government, but it's pointless telling me about it."

The plenum, which runs through Oct. 27, is the sixth full meeting of the 18th Congress of the Communist Party Central Committee that convened in November 2012, during which Xi took charge of the party, replacing former president Hu Jintao.

Xi is using the meeting to consolidate his personal power within the ruling party amid growing reports of bitter factional strife linked to his anti-corruption campaign launched in 2013, according to political analysts.

'Stronger leadership'

Party newspaper the People's Daily announced on Monday that Xi's administration will announce key changes to rules aimed at preventing the emergence of a single, powerful individual in Chinese politics after the political turmoil linked to the personality cult around late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

It is unclear exactly how the rules, brought in by economic reformer Deng Xiaoping in 1980, will change, however.

The new rules will "forge an even stronger, energetic leadership core, ready and waiting to guide China at its new starting point," the paper said, without giving further details.

Xi's recent actions have prompted speculation that he will be the first leader since Deng to refer to himself as a "core" leader, a term generally understood to indicate absolute authority.

According to state news agency Xinhua, "strict party governance will enhance the party's ability to rule the country."

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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