Petitioners Fight To Be Heard

Chinese citizens brave increased security to voice their grievances during an annual lawmaking session.

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NPCplainclothes305.jpg Plainclothed paramilitary guards march in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 10, 2011.

Ordinary Chinese with grievances against the ruling Communist Party are struggling to get their voices heard during annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing.

"We want to put pressure on them to resolve our problem," said a representative of 5,000 farming families from northeast China, who tried this week to table a motion at the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

"We have already shown the evidence to the mayor, the provincial governor, the district governor, and the People's Congress at district, municipal, and provincial levels," said the activist, surnamed Chen, from Harbin city.

"But we haven't had any response."

The farmers are protesting at the appropriation of tens of thousands of mu (1 mu = 0.16 acres) of their farmland by local development companies, often, they say, with violence on the part of the authorities.

Disputes like the one in Harbin have been echoed across the country in recent years as cash-strapped local governments rush to swell their coffers through lucrative property deals, sparking thousands of protests every year.

"They have bought off everyone all the way up to the Harbin municipal government and Heilongjiang provincial government," Chen said.

"The mafia of Limin district have a really long reach, which extends all the way to the procuratorate in Beijing."

Petition ignored

Meanwhile, a group of 40 petitioners from southern Guangdong province lodged a formal complaint against Guangzhou mayor Wan Qingliang and municipal Party secretary Zhang Guangning, saying they had neglected to do their duty and had violated national laws on the treatment of petitions.

"They haven't done their job, which is to respond to our petition," said one of the petitioners, He Jianqiang. "Instead, they told the police to keep an eye on us, and searched my home."

"They are very corrupt," He said. "We have brought to the High People's Court the evidence which the Intermediate People's Court refused to accept."

"They said they would have to send it back to the Intermediate Court, so I don't know if they will accept the case," he said.

He said the Intermediate Court had rejected the case as being outside its jurisdiction.

In Shanghai, property rights campaigners whose privately owned houses were taken from them by the Communist Party in 1956 were continuing their decades-long fight to get them back, which official Chinese media are forbidden to cover.

"There were quite a lot of people there today," said one campaigner surnamed Wu. "We are still hoping that the parliamentary sessions will make a statement about our issue, and we are still working on that."

"We have pointed to the Constitution, to the Property Law ... but they don't take any notice," she said. "They just say they have no orders from higher up, that there is no policy on this."

"The municipal parliament held four meetings to discuss dog ownership ... but they won't deal with the very real problems of ordinary people," she said.

Another Shanghai petitioner, Jiang Li, who had traveled to petition the NPC about her father's death in a labor camp, disappeared and lost contact with her relatives amid a nationwide security clampdown in the wake of online calls for a "Jasmine revolution."

"I got a text message from her yesterday, saying that she had been detained by the Shanghai police [in Beijing] and taken back to Shanghai under detention," Jiang Li's sister Jiang Ping said.

"I don't know where she is, and she doesn't answer her cell phone when I call it," she said. "Someone picks up, but then they don't say anything."

Jiang Ping said that she and her sister were detained for 10 and 28 days respectively after they traveled to Beijing to see a rights lawyer last year.

Security tightened

Chinese authorities have raised security measures to unprecedented levels in the capital following recent protests in the Middle East, rounding up and beating people trying to lodge complaints against officials as the country's parliament and top political advisory body meet for their annual sessions.

Thousands of petitioners come to Beijing each year to seek redress for complaints against their local governments, with larger numbers making the trip during the parliamentary sessions in March.

They are frequently held in "black jails," which stand outside the criminal justice system, and are escorted back to their hometowns by local governments, which run representative offices in the capital for the purpose.

In the northern city of Xian, former military personnel staged a demonstration calling for better treatment of retired People's Liberation Army Officers.

"We are going to big cities where there are a lot of people to call for consistency in the government and Party's policies towards retired PLA officers," said campaigner Li Zhiqiang.

"But wherever we go, they refuse to admit that they aren't implementing [pension and retirement] provisions."

He said that while large numbers of PLA officers are serving in the NPC and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), there are apparently no retired military officers.

Campaigners hoping to carry the “Jasmine revolution” from North Africa and the Middle East to China have repeatedly posted online calls for regular weekend demonstrations in dozens of Chinese cities.

So far, the Jasmine rallies appear to have attracted more police and journalists than protesters, however.

Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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