HONG KONG — ; Hundreds of laid-off mining workers from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang were heading to Beijing on Thursday to protest the detention of 23 of their representatives after a mass suicide bid in the capital Monday, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
"Now there are between 400 and 500 people on their way from Hegang City on the train to protest at their detention," veteran Beijing petitioner Liu Anjun told RFA's Mandarin service. "If they're not here this evening they'll be here tomorrow."
The 23 petitioners climbed to the top of a building 20 meters high and threatened to jump, triggering a five-hour standoff with police and emergency services in front of thousands of other petitioners and bystanders.
They were eventually detained for causing a disturbance, eyewitnesses and fellow petitioners told RFA.
The group had decided to take their own lives as a final protest at their failure to get redress for their grievances against the Hegang City Mining Bureau.
Petitioners said they represented a group of several thousand former workers laid off from the mining bureau between 1996 and 1998.
"All of their mobiles have been switched off and they were taken to the You'anmen police station," one petitioner, identified only by his surname Li, told RFA. "The next day they were taken to the Complaints Bureau of the State Council, to the reception area for people from all over China. But how things went there for them we still have no idea."
An official at the Hegang City Mining Bureau said she had heard no news either. "All I know is that they're still there (in Beijing), perhaps at the police station, and that they haven't been brought back to Hegang yet," the employee said.
"We don't know how much money the government gave for our redundancy and retirement. All we know is that 20,000 yuan (U.S.$2,400) made its way to us, but we think the state earmarked 70,000 or 80,000 for us... Maybe a small amount went to the mine leaders, but the important thing is the mining bureau bosses. The money went to the Hegang City Mining Bureau," the employee told RFA.
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.
Beijing resident Ma Jingxue, whose home isn't far from the Chinese central government compound of Zhongnanhai said there had been a large crowd of petitioners sitting outside the police station on Fuyou Street near the compound for four months.
At one point in June, around 1,800 people had gathered there, Ma estimated.