HONG KONG — ; A group of 23 petitioners from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang climbed a building outside the country's Supreme Court in Beijing on Monday in an apparent mass suicide bid over unresolved grievances.
The 23 petitioners, some of whom were miners from China's rust-belt, climbed to the top of a building just 20 meters from the Supreme Court at 2 p.m. local time and threatened to jump, triggering a five-hour standoff with police and emergency services.
"These people are petitioners who have had no redress for their grievances for a very long time. They have no way to go on existing. They have nothing, no money, so they are in despair. They don't want to live."
Below them was a crowd of several thousand petitioners, who waved banners and shouted in sympathy, eyewitnesses told RFA's Mandarin service.
"There are several thousand petitioners around the sides of the building, carrying banners, shouting slogans and crying and wailing," fellow petitioner Zhang Chaoxin told RFA from the scene.
"There are men and women, some are local residents from Beijing. And on top of the building as well, they are holding their petition documents and wailing," Zhang said, against a background of eerie shrieks and wails from the crowd.
"Most of them are petitioners, because this is where all the petitioners come," said Zhang, who traveled more than 1,000 miles from his hometown in the southern province of Guangdong to make his petition. "It's a highly emotional scene, but it's not out of hand."
He said police and rescue services had placed large safety cushions at the foot of the building to prevent any deaths should the protesters jump.
Beijing-based long-term petitioner Liu Anjun was also at the scene, and he told RFA he understood the mood of the protesters very well.
"These people are petitioners who have had no redress for their grievances for a very long time. They have no way to go on existing. They have nothing, no money, so they are in despair. They don't want to live," said Liu.
All 23 protesters were detained by police for questioning at around 7 p.m. following the dramatic standoff, which lasted five hours. It was not immediately clear what sort of grievances the petitioners had against the government.
The requisition of land by local governments and their crony development companies is a frequent cause for complaint in China, as local residents are evicted from their homes with little ceremony and scant compensation so local governments can cash in on skyrocketing property values.
Another common complaint is the non-payment of salaries and retirement pensions by local governments, which are perennially short of cash. Police brutality and beatings to death in custody have also triggered social unrest in some areas.
Dozens of police were called in to control a crowd protesting outside the Beijing municipal government headquarters last week, petitioners said.
"Our entire family was thrown out on the street because of forced evictions. My father died on the street because of this. We have no home to go to," one Beijing petitioner told RFA from outside the municipal government.
"We were thrown out with no formal procedures by the Management Bureau for the Affairs of State Organs. They built homes for ministers on the piece of land which they took over from us," she said from the middle of the chanting crowd.
"They are shouting in protest at the government. They want a dialogue with the municipal Party secretary, because of these savage and lawless evictions and takeovers of land."
Amid shouts of, "We are homeless!" another woman said she had filed a complaint on behalf of her parents. "They are in their 70s. They were thrown out by a property development company run by the Dongcheng district government. Without any administrative procedures whatsoever. Absolutely nothing," she said.