Suicide Protesters Still Detained In Beijing, Families Followed


2004-07-22
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HONG KONG — ; Twenty-three former mining workers from the northeastern city of Hegang who attempted mass suicide last week are still being held in a Beijing detention center, as police from their hometown keep a close watch on the homes of their relatives in the capital, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Five relatives of the 23 petitioners who had followed them to Beijing were being kept under close watch in the capital by police from their hometown, a Beijing resident who had befriended the petitioners said.

Seven policemen were watching the entrance to the apartment building of one Beijing-based family related to the petitioners late Wednesday, she added.

" ; They wanted to tell people why they wanted to kill themselves...because they had been persecuted by the Communist Party. They had tried to make a complaint but no-one cared, because they had no livelihood and no way out. " ;

"Their home is now surrounded by police. They're not Beijing police, but Heilongjiang police," the woman said.

Attempts to contact the relatives Tuesday failed, as they were being prevented from using their phones, sources close to the petitioners said. Calls to their numbers produced a long, continuous tone and no recorded announcement.

The woman said that before they climbed a 20-meter building outside China's Supreme Court intending to jump from the roof last week, the 23 petitioners had left a suicide note in which they wanted to explain to the people of Beijing why they had tried to end their own lives.

"They wanted to tell people why they wanted to kill themselves...because they had been persecuted by the Communist Party. They had tried to make a complaint but no-one cared, because they had no livelihood and no way out," the Beijing-based friend of the group said. "They were left at a dead end."

The 23 petitioners climbed to the top of a building last Monday 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.

The group represented thousand of laid-off mining workers from Heilongjiang, hundreds of whom have converged on the capital in recent days in protest at their detention.

Around 200 people demonstrated outside the Complaints office of the China's cabinet, the State Council on Tuesday. Last Saturday, a convoy of vehicles carrying around 400 protesters was turned back by police before it entered the capital.

An official at the Hegang City Mining Bureau said 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.

Increasing numbers of officials and police officers from all over China are Following petitioners to Beijing and escorting them back home before their complaint can be heard. This results in a knock-on effect of more and more petitioners and their families traveling to the capital because their grievances have not been addressed, and growing tensions among the country's population of petitioners.

Sources told RFA that the mood among petitioners was becoming increasingly Agitated, and that a major demonstration was expected in the next couple of months.

"It doesn't matter what they do — ; nowadays people have no means to live by anymore: they have no land, they are laid off, detained, and oppressed....It won't extinguish the feeling among ordinary people," a petitioner who declined to be identified said.

"There's going to be a large protest by petitioners between now and September before the meeting of the Politburo. We think there'll be upwards of 10,000 people there," the man said.

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