Sitting at the Gates of Power: Chinas Petitioners


2004-12-08
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The Wages of China's Underdogs: More Abuse of Official Power

Wang Huanmei, 62, holds up photos of her son's badly beaten body. She joined other petitioners in Beijing at an open area that has become known as "complaints village." Thousands seeking redress were detained in Bejing before a major meeting of China's communist party. AFP PHOTO

HONG KONG — 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.

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.

"The civilian wanted to speak up, but the police just beat her."

Turned away

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.

Suspicious death

"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.

"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."

Rough justice

"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.

Mass suicide bid

"The civilian wanted to speak up, but the police just beat her," a witness surnamed Guan told RFA. "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 any more 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.

Chronology:

Sept. 11, 2004 Fujian Officials Take Revenge for Complaints Against Them Revenge of the Party secretary: Officials in the southeastern province of Fujian take revenge on a family who lost a son in the struggle for justice.

Sept. 10, 2004 Beijing Police Herd Petitioners into Camp-Style Detention Police in Beijing herd tens of thousands of ordinary people seeking redress for grievances into a makeshift detention camp in the run-up to a meeting of China's leadership.

Aug. 27, 2004 Guangdong Farmers Clash with Police, Take Official Hostage Guangdong farmers storm local government offices and take an official hostage in protest over alleged corruption surrounding the transfer of their land for development.

Aug. 23, 2004 Land Activist Who Tangled with Tangshan Mayor Detained A peasant land rights activist who led a campaign to get his mayor removed after a dispute is detained in the northern city of Tangshan.

Aug. 23, 2004 Shanghai Police Harass, Detain Eviction Protesters Police in Shanghai routinely harass and detain ordinary citizens who file complaints against the actions of local officials, particularly over forced evictions to make way for lucrative property deals.

Aug. 3, 2004 Eviction Protests In China Soar, Thousands Converge on Beijing The number of complaints relating to forced government evictions has doubled since last year.

Aug. 3, 2004 Henan Riot Police Fire on Protesting Farmers, Six Injured More than 600 riot police in 50 vehicles raid farmers' homes in Shijiahe village near the central city of Zhengzhou, firing plastic bullets at local residents who were preparing to take grievances to Beijing.

July 22, 2004 Suicide Protesters Still Detained In Beijing, Families Followed Heilongjiang suicide protesters are taken away to a Beijing police station, while their families and fellow petitioners are under surveillance.

22 July, 2004 Chinese Petitioners Scooped Up by Police Barred from Beijing: A larger group of former mine-workers from the northeast converges on the capital in support of their fellow petitioners but is turned back by police.

20 July, 2004 50 Fujian Farmers Head to Beijing Over Land Dispute A group of Fujian farmers heads to the capital with a festering land dispute, hoping to avoid detection after their leader is detained.

14 July, 2004 Beijing Suicide Protesters Spoke For Thousands The Heilongjiang petitioners' suicide bid is watched by thousands, and their despair shared by thousands more, witnesses said.

14 July, 2004 Thousands Gather in Tianjin Amid Strong Police Presence On the same day as the Heilongjiang miners' suicide bid, thousands gathered outside county government offices in the northern port city of Tianjin amid strong police presence.

12 July, 2004 Petitioners Attempt Mass Suicide in Beijing Pit of despair: A group of miners from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang attempt a last way out of their difficulties.

9 July, 2004 Armed Crackdown on Guangdong Land Protest, Shots Fired A caller to an RFA listener hotline describes how riot police driving armored personnel carriers fired warning shots into the air to disperse hundreds of land protesters in Guangdong Province.

5 July, 2004 China Vows Crackdown on Embezzlement, College Cities China welcomes an embarrassing report by its national auditor showing central government officials have made off with at least U.S.$170 million of public money.

16 May, 2004 Beijing Rounds Up Petitioners Ahead of Rights Inspection, Anniversary Inspection clean-up: Petitioners are tidied away from government buildings in Beijing ahead of the June 4 anniversary and a scheduled visit by a United Nations envoy.

8 March, 2004 Police Suppress Protesters Bound for China's Parliament A leading whistle-blower calls for a reappraisal of the official verdict on the Tiananmen Square crackdown, as officials announce a new "human-centered" policy to the annual parliamentary session in Beijing.

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