Chinese officials are strengthening local measures to block petitioners from traveling to Beijing to air their grievances, several activists said on Monday.
Huan Xinjin, a Chinese army veteran living in eastern Shandong province’s Yantai city, said he and four others planned to petition the central government in Beijing over lack of compensation for their military service.
But according to Huan, the group was intercepted by authorities before it even reached the capital on Monday.
“This morning our group boarded a bus bound for Beijing from [nearby] Tianjin city. But we were stopped by security officers at a highway checkpoint around 9 a.m.,” Huan said by cell phone.
“They claimed that our ID cards have problem, then took us to a local police station,” he said.
“Now we are on a special bus heading back to Yantai, and there are five people accompanying us on the way.”
The former soldier vowed to attempt the trip to Beijing again, saying it was his inalienable right to do so.
Separately, police in Wuhan, in central Hubei province, detained a petitioner in his 70s last Thursday.
Police said Zhou Xinbao was given 15 days of detention in 2008 for petitioning. Zhou was only detained for four days, they said, meaning his current detention would serve out the remaining 11 days of his punishment.
Zhou’s daughter-in-law said Monday that her husband had planned to petition the central government in Beijing about the case, but local police were constantly monitoring their home and family members.
“Once the police officers know you are going to Beijing, they will [try to] stop you in the railway station.”
“My child is small and I just want to send him to stay with my own parents, but police haven’t allowed me to leave. If they continue to do this, we will all go insane.”
In Shanghai, authorities have distributed notices around the city warning petitioners not to travel to Beijing at risk of being detained or sent to a labor camp.
“The notice was distributed through local police stations, but bore no official seal,” petitioner Wang Kouma said Monday.
“The notice threatens detention for a first time violation and labor camp for a second, and claims that petitioning in Beijing is a ‘crime’.”
Wang said that when the central government in Beijing sent inspectors to Shanghai two weeks ago, a petitioner by the name of Chen Qiyong went to their temporary office and questioned why the notice lacked an official seal. Officers beat him up and drove him away.
But Wang said that no matter what obstacles they faced, he and other petitioners would not give up their struggle for justice.
“Around the end of each month, we will go to Beijing again.”
Petitioning for redress
Thousands of petitioners go to Beijing each year to seek redress for complaints against their local governments.
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.
Petitioning authorities for redress has a long history in China.
The current system, set up five decades ago to serve as a bridge between the ruling Communist Party and the people, seldom resolves problems, instead sparking detentions, beatings, and harassment of those who dare to complain, according to petitioners and social activists.
The contemporary "letters and visits" system was formally established in 1951 and reinstated during the 1980s following the large number of appeals against summary verdicts handed down during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
China says it receives between 3 million and 4 million complaints in the form of "letters and visits" annually, with the number having peaked at 12.72 million in 2003.
Reporting by Fang Yuan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.