Police in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan detained and questioned a group of parents who lost children in a devastating earthquake eight years ago, as rights activist and author Tan Zuoren called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to respect their rights.
Quake parent campaigner Sang Jun, who lost his son in the collapse of the Fuxin No. 2 Elementary School in worst-hit Mianzhu township, said he was detained and questioned by local police on suspicion of "disrupting public order" on Monday after he showed up at government offices with a group of fellow activists.
Sang, along with fellow campaigners Pi Kaijian, Chen Xuebing, and six others, were held for nearly 10 hours before being released, he told RFA on Tuesday.
"We were locked up in the police station from [Monday] evening to around 10.00 [Tuesday]," Pi told RFA. "We want the government to take care of [our children's] living expenses, including if they go to college later."
"The government promised to take care of our children's expenses until they reached 18, but now they just keep making excuses and won't give us a proper response," he said.
The group are campaigning for the government to keep a promise made to them to pay living expenses for an "extra" post-quake child allowed under China's family planning restrictions to couples who lost their only children on May 12, 2008.
At least 5,000 children died under collapsed school buildings that anti-graft activists said were riddled with substandard building materials.
Sang said the police took them away when they went to lodge complaints at the municipal government after a local court rejected their lawsuit.
"They shoved us and told us that we should go to the complaints office, but then ... they detained us instead," he said. "They told us we didn't have the right profile to see government officials."
"Then they dragged us away," he said. In a separate interview, Sang said: "The police attacked Chen Xuebing, hit him quite hard in the chest, and he's still in pain."
Chen said the detentions came after the group tried to file a lawsuit last week at the local court against the property company that built the collapsed school buildings.
"We want to sue the developers, and we also want to pursue this issue of subsidies for our [second] children and their school fees," Chen said. "School fees are so high nowadays that we can't afford to pay them."
"Then there's the cost of their uniform and various things like that," he said.
Turned away by court
Sang's group applied last week to file a lawsuit at the Mianzhu People's Court in one of the areas worst-hit by the earthquake，which left more than 80,000 people dead, thousands of them schoolchildren.
But fellow campaigner and bereaved mother Deng Yongqiong, who lost her child in the collapse of the Wufu Elementary School, said the local court had rejected the case.
"We wanted to take it to the Intermediate People's Court, or the [provincial-level] High People's Court," Deng said. "But now that the local court won't take the case, it'll never get that far."
"They just said that it was outside of their jurisdiction, and that we should go to the government instead," she said.
"That's why we went en masse to the government offices on Monday."
An official who answered the phone at the Mianzhu municipal government offices on Tuesday declined to comment.
"I don't know about this," the official said.
Sichuan-based writer and rights activist Tan Zuoren, who was jailed for five years in May 2009 for "incitement to subvert state power" after he tried to probe the deaths of schoolchildren, called on the government to respect the parents' rights.
"These parents have had no justice, nor any protection of their rights," Tan said. "They keep talking about the rule of law and due process, so we are using legal procedure to fight for justice."
"The right to file a lawsuit should be enjoyed by everybody, but the government insists on politicizing the whole issue," he said. "They haven't a leg to stand on."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wong Si-lam for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.