Sichuan Quake Complaints Quashed

Parents who lost children in the devastating May 12 earthquake in China's southwestern Sichuan province, and others whose homes are unrepaired, are told to keep quiet.

quake BEICHUAN, China: A man carries a mattress after recovering it from the rubble of collapsed buildings in the southwestern province of Sichuan on June 25, 2008.
HONG KONG—Authorities in China’s quake-hit southwestern province of Sichuan have stopped hundreds of parents of schoolchildren who died in the May 12 earthquake from holding memorials or traveling to Beijing to protest the government’s response to the disaster.

“The police threatened the parents,” a bereaved parent who tried to attend a memorial event for children who died in the collapse of a school in Dujiangyan city said. “I don’t know the details of the threats. Many parents are being monitored by the police.”

Around 100 parents whose children died when the Xinjian Primary School buildings collapsed, killing more than 300 of the 680 students and teachers, brought mooncakes to the school for a memorial at the time of mid-Autumn Festival on Sept. 14l, witnesses said.

One teacher surnamed Zhou was detained by police after she helped the parents write protest slogans, a bereaved parent surnamed Yang said.

“The teacher just wrote a few words saying 'Justice for the Parents of Xinjian Primary School!' but was detained,” Yang said. “She is still in detention now, and we do not know the situation.”
Things are bad here. Before, they said they would repair our homes for us, but they’re not doing it."
Shifang resident

Yang said dozens of reporters covering the memorial event were also taken to the police station and their photos and film deleted.

Five parents who had tried to complain to Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to Sichuan had been sent to “re-education through labor,” an administrative sentence with no need for a trial, Yang said.

Official denial

An officer who answered the phone at the Dujiangyan police station denied the allegations, however.

“We never sent the parents to re-eduction through labor. They were only held under temporary arrest,” he said, adding that he didn’t know much about the incident.

Several thousand school-aged children are believed to have died across the province after school buildings collapsed on them, sparking mass outpourings of grief and rage at the authorities by bereaved parents, who say shoddy construction was to blame.

Chinese families traditionally remember their dead with a memorial rite at the scene of death, including a mourning photograph, paper offerings, and incense to the spirits of the deceased.

But parents in other parts of the city whose children died in the collapse of school buildings have also reported being banned from carrying out the ceremony by police.

Parents in Shifang and Beichuan cities who lost children in the collapse of school buildings during the devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake said they had been under close surveillance by police and local officials throughout the summer, while the Olympics were under way in Beijing.

They had managed to make several trips to provincial capital Chengdu to complain about compensation, however.

“The government is afraid that we will go to Beijing,” a parent who lost a child in the collapse of the Jiandi township school said.

“We have been promised 92,000 yuan (U.S. $13,400) in compensation for the death of our child, including all the insurance money and everything, but the government hasn’t honored the deal it made.”

No compensation for some

“There are about 100 households in [Jiandi] township who have lost children. The biggest losses were in Luoshui township, where some haven’t received any money at all in compensation yet,” the parent, surnamed Chen, added.

A group of families in Beichuan county meanwhile said they planned to go to Beijing to lodge a petition with the central government.

They have already refused tens of thousands of yuan in compensation in return for a promise not to sue the authorities for negligence in the overseeing of the schools’ construction, which many parents believe to have been substandard.

An official who answered the phone at the Beichuan county government offices said: “Reporters should call the propaganda department.”

An official who answered the phone at the propaganda department said: “I don’t know,” when asked about the situation, adding, “I have no comment.”

A rural resident from the outskirts of Shifang city, at the heart of the quake-hit region, said quake survivors were having a hard time generally following recent rainstorms, as the initial wave of help from the government appeared to have tailed off, leaving them with unrepaired homes as winter approached.

“Things are bad here. Before, they said they would repair our homes for us, but they’re not doing it,” the man said.

“A lot of places are flooded, too. We are planning to go to Beijing to lodge a complaint after the National Day holiday. There are about a dozen of us. We will go and submit our documents. We are not going to cause trouble. The local government doesn’t know about this. We are going as tourists. Otherwise they would never let us leave.”

Sixteen people died and 48 were reported missing after rainstorms swept the quake-struck region of Mianyang city, the official Web site Sichuan Online reported.

Authorities kept a tight rein on people trying to travel to the capital to lodge official complaints against the government throughout the Olympics, extending the tight security through China’s National Day holiday this week.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan and in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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