China Continues Petitioner Round-up as Leaders Vow to Beat Graft

Mar. 1, 2005. A man hides his face as he shows his petition in a squatter village in southern Beijing. Photo: AFP/Peter Parks

HONG KONG--Chinese police and security guards have continued to round up, sometimes with violence, the thousands of petitioners who hope to get their stories heard during the annual parliament in Beijing this week.

As China's leaders promised National People's Congress (NPC) deputies to improve official acountability and crack down on widespread corruption and abuse of power, hundreds of ordinary people pursuing complaints against the government were denied access to the parliament building.

"Yesterday around 300 people set off for Tiananmen Square, and they haven't come back. I heard they had been detained," a long-term resident of a squatter camp in a southern district of Beijing told RFA's Mandarin service Tuesday.

If you go there with your petition documents they will take you away. They are afraid you will stand and shout stuff outside the Great Hall of the People.

"They haven't come back even now...Of course if you go there with your petition documents they will take you away. They are afraid you will stand and shout stuff outside the Great Hall of the People," Bai said.

An officer on duty at the Tiananmen police station declined to give details of the detentions. "If you want to confirm that information you will need to call the Beijing municipal press office," the officer told RFA reporter Fang Yuan.

"I don't subscribe to your version of events. We are not arresting people. Don't use the word 'arrest', ok?" he said.

Massive security sweep

Hundreds of thousands of paramilitary police, regular police and security volunteers have been deployed around the capital during the NPC, which runs from Mar. 5-14 in the Chinese capital. They turn away anyone with complaints-related documents on them.

Chinese lower-level courts handled 4.22 million petitions in 2004, a rise of 6.2 percent on the previous year, Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang told the NPC in his annual work report. The Supreme Court had handled 147,665 cases during the same period, an increase of 23.6 percent, Xiao said.

China revised its 10-year-old regulations on petitions in January 2005, in the hope of strengthening legal protection for genuine complaints, which officials admit make up around 80 percent of petitions.

But petitioners, many of whom were forcibly evicted, or had a relative die in police custody, tell a different story. Many have lost everything in the search for redress, which for some has dragged on for nearly a decade.

I demand to know what the NPC will do to curb and limit the party and the government in their violation of human rights.

"This morning at around 11 a.m., outside the Supreme Court complaints office, the deputy head of the Anyang municipal People's Court in Henan province, a woman, I don't know her name, nearly throttled a petitioner to death," petitioner Lian Hua told RFA's Mandarin service.

"She chased the petitioner, Xuan Gaifeng, outside the building. So the petitioners were very angry and they all pushed her car into the middle of the road. When the security guards brought the official out, they set upon them, and one person scrawled "Police Bandits, You Will Pay." on a piece of paper and stuck it on her car," Lian said.

Over at the complaints office of China's cabinet, the State Council, petitioners reported a slight easing of security after a journalist asked Premier Wen Jiabao why the office had been closed during the NPC, given his government's pledges to make China a more democratic and harmonious society.

Petitioners jump in river

The office's closure on Mar. 6 prompted a group of petitioners to jump into the nearby Jinshui River in protest, Lian said.

"They said the reason they did it was that they had tried to go to the complaints office of the State Council, but they couldn't because it was cordoned off. That's why they jumped."

"I heard that a reporter asked Premier Wen Jiabao why if he was seeking to build a democratic society that the petitioners were not allowed to go the complaints office to pursue their cases. So the complaints office was open again this morning," Lian told RFA.

Some low-income people lead difficult lives, and there are more than a few factors threatening social stability.

Meanwhile, residents of "petitioner village" near the Yongdingmen Railway Station in the southern suburb of Fengtai, and other rapidly growing petitioner communities, were still subject to detentions, searches and dawn raids by police.

"Every time they come they arrest between 10 and 20 people. The day before yesterday, they came at 4 a.m," Bai said.

"They take them away to Majialou [further out of the city to the southwest], make them fill out a bunch of forms, register, and then they come back again...Now there are a lot of petitioners living in other places in Beijing, too, like Dongaodi and Majiapu. I heard that a lot of people had been taken away from those places," she said.

Bao Tong's protest letter

Meanwhile, a former aide to disgraced former Party chief Zhao Ziyang hit out at rights violations by the government in an open letter to the NPC.

"I write to you today to report that official organisations and cadres are persisting in their violation of human rights," Bao wrote.

"They do so presumably under orders from the leadership of the party and the government...I demand to know what the NPC will do to curb and limit the party and the government in their violation of human rights," the letter said.

Parliament enshrined protection of human rights in the constitution last year, but Bao said plainclothes security forces had stopped Bao and his 73-year-old wife from paying respects to Zhao. His wife is still in hospital with a fractured spine, and Bao was kept under house arrest for 15 days.

"Unfortunately, the violation of citizens' rights by party and government organisations is not only against the law, but also quite common in this country," Bao said.

Earlier in the week, Premier Wen warned NPC deputies that growing inequalities and official misbehavior could threaten China's smooth development.

"Some low-income people lead difficult lives and there are more than a few factors threatening social stability," Wen said, adding that "formalism, bureaucracy, dishonesty, extravagance and waste are relatively severe". "We must face the above mentioned problems squarely and continue to adopt measures to solve them," he told the NPC.


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