Chinese authorities have detained thousands of petitioners who defied a ban to seek government redress in Beijing ahead of the July 1 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, according to the petitioners Friday.
The central government has banned citizens from bypassing local authorities to file petitions in Beijing from May 1 in its latest effort to streamline the chaotic petitioning system.
Despite the ban, a large number of ordinary people with complaints against the government have converged on the country's capital in a desperate bid to win redress for alleged official wrongdoing ahead of the party's founding anniversary, according to the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights website. Many of them were detained and sent to unofficial detention centers.
Liu Moxiang, a petitioner from the central province of Hubei, said she waited for hours to be booked in to Beijing's Jiujingzhuang unofficial detention center after her bus joined a long line of buses waiting to enter the facility on Thursday.
"There were so many people in Jiujingzhuang," said Liu, who had gone to the party's anti-graft agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, to lodge a complaint.
"They would only let a busload [of detainees] enter Jiujingzhuang after they had all been booked in," she said. "I was in the fifth bus, and there were still more buses behind us."
"This period ahead of July 1 is a very sensitive time, and Jiujingzhuang is overflowing with people hoping to get their complaints resolved."
Liu said petitioning was often the only option open to people seeking to challenge government actions in their hometowns.
"This is the only channel we have to stand up for our rights, but they won't accept our registrations at the state complaints office now," she said, referring to new rules issued on May 1 banning petitioners from going over the heads of local officials to lodge complaints that should be heard in their hometowns.
"By forbidding petitioning to higher authorities, they have cut off this channel, and once you get back home, they lock you up and won't let you out," Liu said.
"But if we don't take this route, then we have no hope left."
Sheng Lanfu, a petitioner from the northeastern province of Liaoning, said life has become much harder for China's army of petitioners since the ruling was passed.
"Its no use going to the Central Commission or the complaints office, because they just send you to Jiujingzhuang and call the interceptors from your hometown to come and take you home," Sheng said.
"Every year, on July 1, petitioners from across the country go to Beijing to lodge complaints, and there have clearly been more petitioners in town in the past few days than normal," she said.
"The party says it governs for the people...but a lot of petitioners have spent years of their lives pursuing complaints, and injustices rarely get resolved."
"Nobody cares about injustice," Sheng said. "We are just doing it as a way of expressing our anger and as a protest."
"We petitioners are really just exposing their lies."
In January, several hundred inmates of another large but unofficial detention center on the outskirts of Beijing broke out of the compound in protest at their treatment over Chinese New Year.
The petitioners stood outside the Majialou detention center and sang "The Internationale" after the breakout, saying they could no longer tolerate being kept in such a crowded place with no water to drink and not enough food to eat.
Detention in centers like Jiujingzhuang and Majialou — officially known as 'reception centers' — follows no procedure under China's current judicial system, and is an interim measure used by the authorities to briefly incarcerate those who complain before sending them home under escort.
But many petitioners still converge on major centers of government during high-level political meetings and significant dates in the calendar, in the hope of focusing public attention on their plight.
Nearly 20,000 grievances are filed daily to complaints offices across China in person, according to official figures released last November.
Many petitioners are middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income living in constant fear of being detained by officials from their hometown who run representative offices in larger cities seeking out those who complain about them.
Those who do pursue complaints against the government--often for forced evictions, loss of farmland, accidents, or death and mistreatment in custody--say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in "black jails"
or "legal study centers," beaten, and harassed by the authorities.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.