HONG KONG—Authorities in Beijing have dispersed a group of protesters who gathered near a railway station in the southern part of the capital and sang revolutionary songs from the Mao era, petitioners said.
The protest came after an attempt to stage a silent sit-in outside the complaints department of China's ruling Communist Party was thwarted by police, and followed an entire concert of songs organized by petitioners on the previous evening.
"There was a group of petitioners outside the central government complaints office who were dispersed by a group of around 30 police," said Xu Nu, one of the protesters who sang the songs early Sunday.
The petitioners, who have come to Beijing from across China in a bid to draw attention to alleged abuses in their hometowns, regrouped in the southern district of Fengtai, where many of their number live in rough, shantytown accommodations.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harrassed by authorities if they try to take a complaint against local government actions to a higher level of government.
"Now we are all on the north side of the square outside the Beijing Southern Railway Station," Xu said, adding that 200-300 people were at the scene on Sunday.
"Some of the petitioners have been singing petitioner songs. We sang the 'Internationale' outside the complaints office," said Xu, referring to the international communist anthem also favored by the student-led pro-democracy movement of 1989.
A second petitioner said as many as 500 petitioners had grouped in the same area on Saturday.
"We held a petitioner's concert of 'red songs' yesterday," she said. "[We sang] 'The East is Red,' the national anthem, and the 'Internationale.'"
"A lot of police came and told us we couldn't sing and rolled up our [protest] banner."
She estimated the number of petitioners at 500 and the number of security personnel at around 40.
"They surrounded us, so everybody stopped singing."
A 'petitioner village'
A Beijing-based petitioner surnamed Wang said as many as 1,000 people had collected at the same place earlier in the weekend, late Saturday. "They formed a petitioner village. The village chief's name is Li Xiaocheng," Wang said.
"They sang revolutionary songs."
Li, who said he had been petitioning the authorities for 14 years to have an unjust case overturned, said he and a friend had been preparing the protest event for a long time.
"We spent 50 yuan (U.S. $7) on a banner. It read, 'Petitioners' Concert of Revolutionary Songs,'" Li said. Many petitioners lack even the money to afford tickets on public transport.
"Then we printed out a song-sheet of all the songs we had selected," he said.
Top of the bill was "The East is Red," an icon of the Maoist era, which includes the lyrics, "The east is red, the sun is rising. A Mao Zedong has emerged in China."
Petitioners also sang, according to the song-sheet, "Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China," "The Red Army Veterans Are Missing Chairman Mao," and "Song for the Motherland."
Li said that after the concert was over, he was taken aside by police at the scene and asked a few questions. However, he was allowed to go free after a large number of petitioners crowded around them in a show of support.
Last December, more than 200 petitioners called on China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to ratify two United Nations human rights covenants, which would give further legal recognition to their struggle to protect their rights.
Many petitioners who travel to Beijing to complain are picked up by officials from their hometowns, who run representative offices in the capital for this purpose, and escorted back home, where they can face beatings, surveillance, and further detention.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.