Bereaved Parents 'Let Down' After 2008 Sichuan Quake

2013-05-13
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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.
AFP

Five years after the devastating 2008 earthquake that ripped through rural Sichuan, leaving more than 80,000 people dead or missing, the parents of thousands of schoolchildren who died in collapsed school buildings say they have been let down by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

While China's official media called the reconstruction in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake a success, victims—including parents who lost schoolchildren—say they have been harassed, beaten, and detained in their fight to be heard.

"In the past five years, we have been very cruelly treated," said Sang Jun, a bereaved parent from Sichuan's Mianzhu county, which was among the areas worst hit by the disaster.

"The central government doesn't stand by its own promises, and has kept us waiting in agony for the past five years."

He cited a promise made on a visit to Sichuan by then-premier Wen Jiabao to investigate claims that school buildings were built to an unsafe standard because of corruption among local officials.

"At the time, Wen Jiabao promised there would be an investigation into dangerous buildings, and we are still waiting," Sang said.

"But to this day, there still hasn't been a response for our children," he added, before being cut off.

Once reconnected, Sang said his family's phones were being monitored by the authorities in the run-up to Sunday's anniversary.

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 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.

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

Critics beaten, warned

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.

Outspoken Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei was badly beaten by police when he tried to testify in support of Tan.

Ai on Sunday tweeted a link to his audio installation work "Nian," a compilation of online recordings of people reading the names of students who died in the earthquake.

On Sunday, dozens of parents who lost children in the collapse of Mianzhu's Fuxin No. 2 Primary School were prevented from holding a memorial ceremony at the site.

"Yes, [they stopped us]," said one bereaved parent, who declined to give his name.

A second parent surnamed Zhang said he had also tried to attend.

"Around 70 or 80 people [went] to the site of the old school, to make offerings," Zhang said. "[The local government officials] tried to tell us not to go."

Reconstruction

China's official media on Sunday praised the reconstruction job done by local governments after the 2008 earthquake, however.

Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily called the earthquake a "grave catastrophe" but said the recovery was a symbol of China's strength.

"In less than three years, the Wenchuan disaster zone has completed the task of reconstruction with impressive speed," the newspaper said in a front-page commentary.

"To achieve a new victory of building a prosperous society, this is the best way to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake," it said.

Last month, a 6.6-magnitude tremor centerd in Sichuan's Lushan county killed 196 people and left 21 missing and more than 13,000 injured, according to state media.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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