HONG KONG — ; Some 200 petititioners from the northeastern Chinese city of Hegang succeeded in making their way to Beijing even after police intercepted some 400 of their number outside the capital days earlier.
The group demonstrated outside the Complaints Office of the State Council in Beijing on Wednesday, an eyewitness from the same province told RFA's Mandarin service.
"There are just under 200 of them, carrying banners saying 'Give us back our human rights!' and 'In search of a livelihood.'...They arrived yesterday," Li Guozhu, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, said. "They only managed to turn back some of them. These people all made their way to Beijing separately, in small groups."
Li said several thousand petitioners from the Hegang City Mining Bureau in northern Heilongjiang Province had blocked a major railway line between Jixi and Harbin in the province on July 7-8 in protest at the disappearance of funds earmarked for their redundancy payments between 1996 and 1998.
"There were about 3,000 of them, and they blocked the Jixi-Harbin line for about seven hours — ; the protesters told me themselves," he said. "This is absolutely correct. The media didn't report it because if they did they would be punished."
Following the train-line sit-in, the group sent a delegation of 36 petitioners to Beijing, but 23 of them aimed to commit mass suicide when their hopes of redress in the capital were also dashed.
A five-hour standoff with police and emergency services followed outside China's Supreme Court building.
The 23 are still under detention in the southern Beijing district of Fengtai, charged with causing a disturbance, fellow petitioners say.
More than 400 of the former mining workers who set out for the capital to protest the detention of the 23 were turned away from the capital Saturday by hundreds of police officers.
An official at the Hegang City Mining Bureau told RFA last week that the trouble had begun following a wave of redundancies at the bureau, for which the government had earmarked around U.S.$10,000 in payments.
But only a quarter of the money ever found its way into petitioners' pockets, with mining bureau leaders suspected of having made unauthorized use of the funds.
The Chinese authorities continue to persecute the growing number of petitioners across the country.
Police often beat or detain them and even send them to labor camps or bring criminal cases against them in court.
They are frequently followed to Beijing by police from their hometowns, with the collusion of police in the capital. Long-term petitioners to government departments in the capital say they have recorded 2,670 verifiable detentions of petitioners from across China since the beginning of last month.
Petitioners cite a whole range of official abuses, but the most common are forced eviction and non-payment of wages, retirement pensions or compensation packages linked to local government property developments.
Crowds of petitioners are becoming a common sight outside key government buildings in Beijing, as thousands are driven by loss of livelihood, homelessness, and desperation to camp at the gates of those in power.