HONG KONG, Aug. 31, 2004—Beatings, deaths in police custody, and regular harassment and detention are increasingly familiar for China's growing army of disenfranchised people seeking redress for official wrongdoing.
Tens of thousands of ordinary Chinese who have been victims of corruption or other abuses of official power have been trying to gather on Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital for several months now, in a show of solidarity and disgust.
"They’re checking everyone very aggressively...There's a policeman about every five meters. When they arrest someone, they pull them onto buses and drive away."
But the authorities have so far remained one step ahead of them.
Protesters hope to stage a huge march against corruption and in support of redress of grievances against government agencies Sept. 18 in the capital, but the leader of the demonstration—Beijing resident Ye Guozhu—was detained by police for questioning.
Several hundred petitioners who went to apply for permission to demonstrate were also detained. The application is unlikely to be approved, sources told RFA's Mandarin service.
A previous demonstration planned by petitioners for Aug. 7 in Beijing was stopped after the leader was arrested.
Up to 10,000 people are thought to have been turned back by police as they attempted to reach Tiananmen Square, according to witnesses
"They’re checking everyone very aggressively. They've just questioned us," said Xinjiang resident Li Chunying, who applied for permission to hold the demonstration. "They asked if we’re tourists. There’s a policeman about every five meters. When they arrest someone, they pull them onto buses and drive away. It doesn’t look good."
Petitioners who visit government buildings in Beijing with complaints against officials are seldom welcome.
In mid-August, police guarding China's Supreme Court building—the heart of China's judicial system—severely beat one petitioner from the northwestern province of Gansu, witnesses said. The man later died in hospital.
"Wang Yuansen was a resident from Gansu... On Aug. 16, he was pushed out by the judge and knocked to the floor," a man who witnessed the beating said. "He was then beaten by Supreme Court police in the hallway and injured. He died the following day, Aug. 17."
He said the beating was watched by more than 1,000 fellow petitioners who were waiting for their names to be called.
He said Wang appeared to have been poisoned while in hospital and had rope marks around his neck when his body was seen.
Wang wasn’t the first to be beaten at the Supreme Court, petitioners said.
"The civilian wanted to speak up, but the police just beat her," a witness surnamed Guan told RFA's Mandarin service. "I arrived at the scene around 3 p.m.. I saw the one who was beaten lying in the corner of the stairs. There was a pile of garbage—she was lying by the garbage from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.."
"The civilians couldn’t take it anymore and reported it to the police. A policeman arrived but didn’t ask the crowd questions. He asked only, ‘Why did you call the police?’" Guan said.
Several groups of petitioners from northeast China have also attempted suicide by jumping from buildings in Beijing in a bid to get their voices heard, but they were prevented by rescue workers and detained by police.