HONG KONG—Parents who lost children when school buildings collapsed in a devastating 2008 earthquake in the southwestern province of Sichuan have called for an inquiry into alleged shoddy construction, amid continuing official surveillance and warnings not to talk to foreign media.
Ten parents of children who died under collapsed buildings at the Beichuan Middle School said they had made it as far as the provincial capital Chengdu this week to submit a petition, although a planned trip to complain to the central government in Beijing was blocked by authorities.
"We are at the complaints office right now," one parent surnamed Liu said from Chengdu. "There are 10 parents from the Beichuan High School who have come here today," she said.
"We have submitted our letter. They are in the office discussing it."
She said the Beichuan High School parents had been to Beijing and to the provincial government several times, but with no result so far.
"They just say it's the fault of the earthquake," Liu said. "We will wait to see if we get a response over here, and then we will go back to Beijing."
The Beichuan High School parents are planning to team up with parents who lost children in the collapse of the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the quake-hit area, according to Fuxin parent and petitioner Sang Jun.
"The police said that I wouldn't be allowed to leave my hometown if I tried to travel to Beijing," Sang said.
"The police from the local station have been following me since Friday. [On Monday] they came to my house and told me not to talk to [foreign media]."
"They said that I would have to bear the consequences if I spoke to the overseas media. They said they would settle the account in their own good time. They were from the Fuxin township police station."
An officer who answered the phone at the Fuxin police station declined to comment.
"How about this: You come here to Fuxin and then the relevant departments will answer your questions," he said.
Sang said his group of parents from Fuxin plan to link up with similar petitioners from the Beichuan High School for the trip to Beijing.
"We had planned to go on Friday or Saturday to Beijing. There were plans for 16 of us to go."
According to official figures, 5,335 children died in the Sichuan earthquake of May 12, 2008, but rights activists say the number is probably closer to 7,000.
"The earthquake was such a massive disaster," Sang said. "Why have they been unable all along to get to the bottom of the 'beancurd buildings'?"
"[The officials] are lying to the people. Our aim is ... to get an investigation into the matter."
"Didn't Premier Wen Jiabao from the central government say himself that he would investigate the issue of unsafe buildings? Our school was an unsafe building. Why won't they investigate it?"
Meanwhile, parents who lost children in school collapses in Chongyi township said the authorities have prevented them from getting online.
"They have shut off our Internet access," said a parent whose child died in the earthquake.
"If you do anything that isn't in the government's interest, they cut you off. We can't see anything online. It's all been blocked," he said.
Parents from worst-hit Dujiangyan also said they are being followed, threatened, and prevented from lodging official complaints in Beijing and with higher authorities.
Prominent artist Ai Weiwei has spearheaded a campaign to identify the children who died in the earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people.
On May 12, the second anniversary of the quake, Ai posted the names of thousands of dead children on his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 30,000 people.
He also posted online an audio file more than three hours long in which volunteer netizens from all over China read out the names of the children who died, in a somber protest against the government’s refusal to allow any kind of public inquiry into their deaths.
Sichuan authorities have already jailed one activist, writer Tan Zuoren, after he carried out an independent investigation into the children’s deaths and published it online.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.