Protest Amid Rocket Fanfare

Human rights activists are rounded up during China's National Day celebrations.

Petitioners converge on the United Nations building in Beijing, Oct. 1, 2010.

HONG KONG—As China launched its Chang'e-2 lunar probe on the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic amid huge media fanfare, police in Beijing arrested dozens of ordinary people with grievances against the government, eyewitnesses said.

Police detained dozens of protesters outside the offices of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Beijing, as the ruling Communist Party celebrated 61 years in power amid paeans of official praise for a newly confident and technologically advanced China.

"We have just arrived outside the offices of the UNHRC," said a petitioner surnamed Xu from the northeastern city of Jilin.

"There are a lot of police outside right now, and there is one police officer over there carrying a video camera."

The petitioners were protesting China's recently published human rights white paper, which they said paints too rosy a picture of government attitudes to petitioners.

Far from facilitating their attempts to win redress for official wrongdoing, police had been launching widespread checks on the budget hotels and hostels typically used by petitioners in the run-up to the five-day national holiday, petitioners said.

There was also a strong police presence outside the UN office.

"The officials from Jilin city who deal with petitioners were going to kidnap me yet again," Xu said. "But I hung back, and they didn't see me."

Dozens rounded up

He Jinyi, a petitioner from Weifang city in the eastern province of Shandong, said he saw dozens of people being rounded up at the scene before being detained himself.

"We went to the UNHRC office. Between 40 and 50 people were detained," He said.

"They were divided into groups for the regional representative offices to deal with."

"I was taken away by the Shandong representatives in Beijing. There were about 10 people in this vehicle," he said.

According to the white paper, "Chinese citizens have the right to make criticism and suggestions, and bring to the attention of relevant state organs complaints or charges of illegality against any state organ or functionary."

"Through various channels ... the Chinese government makes it convenient for the people to petition, report problems, and offer suggestions," the paper said.

Zhang Yu said he was among a group of around 500 petitioners from Shanghai who had succeeded in getting past police checks in the capital and split up to avoid detection, hiding out at night for fear that hotels might be searched.

"In my group there are a few dozen people. We are wandering the streets all night. We won't check into a guesthouse until morning," Zhang said.

National Day celebration

In official media reports, the Chinese people "marked the 61st anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China with pride and passion."

Among China's achievements, the official Xinhua news agency cited the World Expo in Shanghai and the successful launch of the Long March 3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan.

"Chang'e-2 lays foundation for a soft-landing on the moon and further exploration of outer space," the agency quoted Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar orbiter project, as saying.

Official media also quoted Premier Wen Jiabao as saying that a widening gap between the rich and poor has led to social problems and conflicts.

The Legal Daily newspaper reported on Thursday that in the 20 years since legislation governing civil lawsuits became effective, Chinese courts have received more than 1.5 million cases against government agencies across all areas of government.

Flawed judicial system

Harry Wu, founder of the U.S.-based Laogai Foundation, said the government's numbers greatly underestimate the number of attempted lawsuits against its own officials.

"There are in reality many, many more cases of people trying to sue officials," Wu said. "But all the court officials and the politics and law officials are Party members."

"This is a judicial system which is entirely at the command of the Communist Party," he said.

New York-based Chinese lawyer Ye Ning agreed, saying that litigation under current laws is ineffective in dealing with certain problems.

"I believe that the Chinese government should throw open the courts to lawsuits based on the Constitution," Ye said.

"The ... Communist Party should do its best to back away and stop interfering in judicial affairs," he said.

Petitioners say they are often detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.

If they make it as far as the official complaints office, they are often ignored or handed straight back to enforcement officials from their hometown.

Last December, more than 200 petitioners called on China's parliament, the National People's Congress, to ratify two United Nations human rights covenants that would give further legal recognition to their struggle to protect their rights.

Instead, the government has cited improved standards of living during the past 30 years of economic reforms, including widespread car ownership and use of cell phones, as evidence of an improving human rights situation.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and Xi Wang. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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