Authorities in the Chinese capital have ordered a recently founded school for the children of homeless petitioners and rights activists to leave its current premises, saying it is illegal, its founders said on Tuesday.
Grassroots activist Ran Chongbi, who has previously been detained by Chinese police for her support of last year's pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, co-founded the school for the children of petitioners in Beijing's Fengtai district after local governments denied them schooling in their hometowns.
The "School For Homeless Petitioners' Children" opened its doors this semester with no more than a modest sign at the foot of an apartment block, a blackboard in the living room of an apartment, and a few tables and chairs.
Ran, who once traveled to Hong Kong with the intention of self-immolating over the 2008 rape of her then five-year-old daughter, says the school now has nine pupils, and eschews the curriculum laid down by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"Right now we have nine pupils, and there are more who haven't arrived yet," Ran told RFA on Tuesday. "These kids have been forced out of education by their local governments."
But she said the school, which aims to educate the children of homeless and insecurely housed petitioners, has already run afoul of the authorities.
"We rented an apartment, and we are teaching them ourselves," Ran said.
"[But] we had a visit from the Yungang police station here in Fengtai district twice on Sunday evening, refusing to allow us to home-school these kids," she said.
"They are in cahoots with the landlord, and they want to stop us living here," she said. "They say say it's illegal."
"The landlord has already told us to leave, and we have until the end of the month," Ran said.
'Nobody left to help'
A fellow activist and co-founder of the school, Luoyang petitioner Hu Daliao, said she has spent more than a decade sleeping rough under bridges and overpasses in Beijing.
"We are all petitioners, and we have been homeless for many years," Hu said.
"We have run into kindhearted people in the past, and some university students helped us get our kids educated at schools for migrant workers from the countryside."
"But now they have all graduated, and there is nobody left to help us, and our kids aren't able to get into a school," she added.
Hu said she first had the idea for a petitioner school as early as 1997.
"I saw a lot of petitioners with kids who were unable to get schooling," she said. "Even when I was sleeping under the overpass, I thought about opening a school for the children of homeless petitioners."
"So I managed to get this apartment with the help of everyone in my family," said Hu, who teaches literacy and math. "In the daytime it's a classroom, and in the evening it's a study hall."
"Who knew that we'd get told we are illegal on the very first day," she said. "They have even taken away our sign; it's still down at the police station."
Some schools charge fees
Co-founder Ma Bo, who hails from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, said many petitioners can't leave their children behind, but can't afford the sky-high fees charged by private schools in the capital.
"Our most important aim here is to enable the kids to get an education," Ma said. "Even the children of petitioners, even homeless children on the streets, should get to go to school."
"They should be entitled to nine years' compulsory education, for free," Ma said. "But a lot of the schools here in Beijing actually charge fees."
Ran says if the authorities do force them to leave, they'll take to the streets in protest, and take their protest international.
"We'll give the kids placards saying 'I want to go to school, I want to exist,'" she said. "We'll also go to the U.S. embassy and call on President Obama [for help]."
"China has no human rights," Ran said. "There is no protection for the legitimate rights and interests of [Chinese] children."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.