An elderly man has been hospitalized in the Chinese capital after a suicide attempt outside the gates of the State Council complaints department after his petitioning yielded no results, eyewitnesses said on Thursday.
"It was just past 2 p.m. on Mar. 14, while I was at the State Council petitions bureau," Lu Dongli, a petitioner from the northern province of Shaanxi, told RFA. "I saw an older man of about 60 who had just come out after filing his petition at the State Council."
"He felt that his petition had been in vain, and so he went to the public toilets next door in a state of despair, and slit his wrists with a knife," Lu said. "He was found lying on the ground opposite, outside the north gate of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's petitions reception area."
Lu said the man was soon surrounded by police and security personnel. Photos and video of the scene showed a person in a white coat bending down to look at a man on the ground outside a large grey gate, surrounded by officers in uniform.
"They called an ambulance, and when the doctor arrived, they took him away to the hospital," she said. "He was an old guy."
The suicide attempt came as stepped up nationwide security measures targeting people pursuing complaints and long-running grievances, intercepting petitioners en route to the capital, and sending those who arrive there back home, for the duration of the annual parliamentary session of the National People's Congress (NPC).
Thousands of petitioners typically gather outside the complaints department of the State Council, China's cabinet, in the hope of airing their grievances through official channels. But local governments deploy "interceptors" to take people back home, where they often face some form of retaliation from local officials.
A petitioner from the northeastern city of Shenyang, who gave only her surname, Liu, said the man had acted out of a despair that is well-known to all who lodge complaints with the government, which petitioners say detains them, escorts them home, and beats and harasses them and their loved ones if they won't drop their complaints.
"Why did he slash his wrists? Because life is untenable for petitioners," Liu told RFA. "The interceptors from different localities are out in force, and he never would have evaded them if he hadn't anyway."
"He would have been kidnapped and taken to a detention center by the interceptors," she said. "Before, when they detained someone, they would issue a notification of detention, but now they basically pay no attention to the law whatsoever, and detain people illegally."
‘They are vicious’
Many petitioners have been prevented, sometimes with violence, from getting as far as Beijing in the first place, according to the rights website Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch.
Liu Chunbao, a rights activist from the northeastern province of Liaoning, said he was beaten up by police and detained during the NPC-related crackdown, as he tried to visit his elderly parents.
Beijing-based rights activist Ji Xinhua said violence is becoming more and more common in Chinese law enforcement, as the administration of President Xi Jinping seeks to ensure that nobody criticizes the ruling party in any way.
"They have gone down a road from which it is hard to return now that they have been acting like thugs for so long; they are really vicious," Ji told RFA. "Under this system, little can change, and there are no restraints on them, and things will likely stay this way in the long term."
On the opening day of the NPC annual session in 2014, a woman set fire to herself in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, although the evidence was quickly expunged from the scene, eyewitnesses told RFA at the time.
And in October 2011, a man from the central province of Hubei self-immolated on Jinshui Bridge outside the Tiananmen gate.
The number of ordinary Chinese traveling to Beijing to pursue grievances against the government typically swells ahead of key political events, as petitioners hope their cases will get a more sympathetic hearing.
Reported by Qiao Long and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.