HONG KONG -- A group of prominent Chinese activists has launched a petition campaign calling on Beijing to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of 166 miners at the Chenjiashan coal mine in the northern province of Shaanxi.
"Chinese Rights Defenders (CRD), a network of Chinese citizens who are committed to safeguarding rights and their international volunteer supporters, is assisting in a petition campaign that seeks to bring to justice those responsible," the group said in a statement Tuesday.
It also called on the international community to support the petition, and increase pressure on the Chinese government to do something about China's appalling mine safety record.
We, the undersigned, are saddened and indignant upon learning of the tragic deaths of 166 miners in an explosion at the Chenjiashan Mine in Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province.
"Such frequent big mine accidents are not simply fortuitous events," the petition reads. "Investigations have shown that most of the accidents were caused by human negligence."
Local government officials usually try to hide the truth from their superiors and the general public, frequently lie about the number of deaths and injuries, and use violent tactics against journalists and miners who tell the truth, the petition said.
We, as citizens, urge...the resignation of the governor of Shaanxi Province and the Chief of State Production Safety Supervision & Regulation Bureau, the prosecution of those who neglected mine production safety and the strengthening of anti-corruption campaigns.
The signature campaign was launched in Beijing on Dec. 1. The CRD said it had obtained signatures from "dozens of Chinese citizens" so far. Among them were Beijing-based dissident Liu Xiaobo, on-line activist Du Daobin, and legal scholar Yu Meisun, it said.
But the group warned that any who signed might face retaliation from the Chinese authorities. "CRD calls on international human rights agencies and NGOs to monitor the rights conditions of the campaigners closely. The Chinese government has a track record of harassing, detaining or criminalizing leaders of similar public petitioning drives in recent past," the statement said.
We...urge the central government...to allow independent investigations into the causes of mine accidents by citizens and experts, to make public the findings, to take measures to ensure that the media and the general public can oversee implementation of mine production safety regulations, and to provide fair and adequate compensation for the victims and their families.
It cited the case of Du Daobin, who was detained for several months for petitioning for the release of online writer Liu Di who posted online articles under the penname "Stainless Steel Mouse."
A total of 166 people died in a massive gas explosion at the Chenjiashan mine last week. Miners' families say they were forced to work underground by bosses eager for a bonus, in spite of a dangerous build-up of gas and fires which had raged for three days.
Bereaved relatives besieged government and mine headquarters in the area, smashing windows and demanding officials come out and talk to them.
Only 38 days before the Shaanxi accident, a huge explosion at Daping Mine in Henan claimed the lives of 148 miners. According to official statistics, 6,702 people died in mine accidents nationwide in 2003, accounting for 80% of all deaths from mine accidents worldwide during the same period. But overseas rights groups say the real figure could be as high as 20,000.