Petitioners Dragged From Gates as Chinas Leaders Hold Social Justice Meeting

March, 2004. A Chinese man reads a petition against demolition in Beijing, as the authorities stepped up surveillance against petitioners in the week of the National People's Congress. File Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—Ordinary citizens complaining of official abuses of power have been dragged away from the gates of China's top political school, where they had hoped to speak to top government leaders at a seminar aimed at promoting social justice.

Plainclothes police dragged at least 10 people into an unmarked van at the Dayouzhuang alleyway in Beijing's western district of Haidian, after they tried to wait around to see members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) following a meeting reported in state media, petitioners told RFA's Mandarin service.

"We heard that two top-level Party leaders were having a meeting here, so we went there," Wang Ling, who is currently seeking redress after being evicted from her home, told RFA. "We wanted to tell them about our situation."

Pushed and dragged

"He was pretty rough, saying 'Move it, get in the van!', dragging people into the van. One guy, Wang Xianxin, had grabbed hold of the power-line post and wouldn't let go. In the end it took four policemen to carry him into the van."

Inside the Party School, President Hu Jintao was instructing the country's leading officials and Party cadres to place "building a harmonious society" top on their work agenda, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"The Party and the central government have made it an important task to build a harmonious society, which serves the fundamental interests of the people," Hu, who is also general secretary of the Party Central Committee, told top-level leaders and Party cadres.

Even in the days of the emperors they would receive the ordinary people's grievances at the Palace. So why not us?

Some of the petitioners told RFA they had already spent the last six to seven years pursuing grievances against police, prosecutors, and other officials, to no avail.

"I thought the whole point of the leaders coming to the Party School was to study," said one elderly woman, Li Guifen. "They want to strengthen the Party's ability to govern."

"My daughter died in police custody in 1998, and I haven't had so much as a death certificate. Our human rights, our right to life has been violated, and we have been the victims of a great injustice," Li said, adding that she too had been bundled into an unmarked van and told that a meeting with Party leaders was out of the question.

"No sooner had we turned a few paces into the alleyway than we were followed by policemen," Li said. "They pushed and dragged us into one of those police vans they have in emergencies. We said we have come to visit the dear Party, which is our mother. We came to find our mother."

Wang Xianxin, who was carried onto the van by four police officers because he tried to hang on to an electricity pole, said he had had no redress from mistreatment by officials in six years of complaints procedures against officials at his local People's Procuratorate, China's state prosecutor.

Speaking frankly

"Last night I saw it on the news, and I wanted to come here and speak frankly to them. I came to see our Party, but was met by police instead,” Wang told RFA reporter Lin Di. "I told the police that the Party is my father and mother."

While Wang and the rest of the Beijing petitioners were sent home after questioning at the nearby Qinlongqiao police station, another group of petitioners from elsewhere in China arrived outside the Party School later the same day, sources said.

"I heard from people who lived around the area that a second group of petitioners, from elsewhere in China, arrived outside the Party School in the afternoon, and was also taken away by police," a woman surnamed Ni told RFA. "At the moment we don't know where they were taken."

Security is tight around Tiananmen Square at the heart of the Chinese capital, with police vans on hand to remove desperate protesters during top-level meetings and politically sensitive dates. File photo: AFP

Thousands of petitioners converge on government offices in Beijing every day complaining of mistreatment by officials across China. China's leaders have admitted that around 80 percent of complaints filed are reasonable but very few see a result.

Police in the capital are quick to descend on organized protests, tapping mobile phone signals and sending out-of-town petitioners back where they came from.

Chinese authorities sentenced Beijing-based housing rights activist Ye Guozhu to four years' imprisonment in September for "creating a disturbance" after he applied for a legal permit to organize a 10,000-person protest.

Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have said they aim to promote a "human-centered" approach to governance, warning that continuing rampant official corruption is weakening the Party's hold on power.

Leaders call for rule of law

Hu told the Party School seminar that a harmonious society would feature democracy, the rule of law, equity, justice, sincerity, amity and vitality.

"Such a society will give full scope to people's talent and creativity, enable all the people to share the social wealth brought by reform and development, and forge an ever closer relationship between the people and government. These things will result in lasting stability and unity," the agency quoted Hu as saying.

I told the police that the Party is my father and mother.

Meanwhile, Wang Xianxin said he was asked at the police station why he had imagined that Party leaders would be prepared to see him. "I replied that I am a Chinese citizen, and I wanted to ask them why I have not received protection from society and from the state," he said.

Li said China's current system for reviewing complaints, which has come under criticism from the top echelons of leadership, compared unfavorably with that of China's imperial dynasties.

"Even in the days of the Emperors, they would receive the ordinary people's grievances at the Palace. So why not us?" she said.

Chinese Vice President and President of the Party School Zeng Qinghong presided over the opening ceremony. Premier Wen and Politburo standing committee members Wu Guanzheng, and Li Changchun were also present at the seminar, Xinhua reported.


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