Police Beat, Detain Parents Who Made Offerings to Child Earthquake Victims

china-quakeruins4-050218.jpg Residents of Dujiangyan in China's Sichuan province walk past an earthquake-collapsed building, May 13, 2008.

Several parents of children who died in a devastating 2008 earthquake in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan were taken to hospital at the weekend after police used force to break up a public memorial for the youngest quake victims.

A bereaved parent from Dujiangyan, among many mountain towns to be devastated by the 8.0 quake that left more than 80,000 people dead, said police had been dispatched in force to monitor a memorial by parents of children who died in the collapse of the Juyuan High School.

"The government wanted to monitor [the memorial], and there were clashes," the parent, who gave only his surname Chen, told RFA. "Now the government has beaten up members of our group and they have gone to hospital."

A second bereaved parent surnamed Wang said the beatings began after more than 100 parents of victims had gone to set up wreaths and burn funeral offerings including incense and paper money at the site of the collapsed high-school teaching block.

"I think maybe more than 100 families went ... at around 10.00 a.m. on May 12 to the original Juyuan high school building that collapsed," Wang said. "The relatives were getting ready to unfurl banners, which were all written on the basis of the facts, and the law."

"But the authorities wouldn't let them hang them up, and they snatched away the banners and placards," he said.

Thousands of schoolchildren died in the quake that devastated mountainous regions of Sichuan, flattening the majority of school buildings in and around Wenchuan county and prompting widespread public anger over corruption allegations linked to shoddy construction standards.

But more than a decade on, parents say their campaign for compensation and for financial assistance promised as part of the reconstruction program has drawn a blank.

Many are placed under close surveillance or house arrest ahead of the May 12 anniversary, to prevent them from taking their complaints to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

'Stability maintenance'

A resident of Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu, who gave only her surname Huang, said Chengdu-based writer Tan Zuoren, who researched the deaths of schoolchildren during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, is currently incommunicado, believed to be in the custody of state security police.

"Every year, Tan is either taken on an enforced vacation or invited for 'tea' [by state security police]," Huang said. "Once the date has passed, there is no problem."

Huang said memorial activities for the quake victims are banned in China.

"If you dare to commemorate it, they will arrest you on any old charge," she said. "Most parents—especially those who have given interviews to the media in the past—have been subjected to 'stability maintenance' in advance [of the anniversary]. Every year they are under 24-hour surveillance."

"One parent from Beichuan county goes to the site of the earthquake every year to burn incense and paper money, but sometimes is targeted by stability maintenance," Huang said. "Sometimes they burn paper money for their children a few days ahead of the anniversary."

Official boycott

A government source in Sichuan's Mianyang city said there were no official quake memorials for victims this year. Instead, the municipal Communist Party secretary and mayor had left town on official business ahead of the anniversary.

Local media had also avoided mentioning the anniversary this year, the source said.

RFA was unable to locate any mention of the anniversary in China's tightly controlled state media on May 12.

Calls to the Sichuan provincial government offices rang unanswered on Sunday.

Bereaved parents were permitted to have a second child after the disaster, in a special dispensation under the former "one-child policy" family planning rules, but they say the government also promised to fund the children's education and other living expenses: a promise that has yet to be kept.

Many say they are now struggling to meet all the expenses for their second child on a subsidy of just over 100 yuan a month.

Attempts blocked

Repeated attempts by victims' relatives to stage protests or petitioning events have been quashed by the authorities, and human rights lawyers have been warned off accepting compensation cases linked to Sichuan's child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice, according to Tan Zuoren.

Tan was sentenced by a Sichuan court in February 2010 to five years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power" after being formally accused of defaming the ruling Chinese Communist Party in e-mailed comments about the 1989 bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Tiananmen Square.

But his supporters say he was detained because he planned to issue an independent report on the collapse of school buildings during the Sichuan earthquake.

Tan pledged on his release in April 2014 to continue his work.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service.Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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