'My Husband Doused Himself in Petrol and Got Out His Lighter'

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china-zhang-shufeng-2013.jpg Zhang Shufeng and Zhang Deli protest against their forced eviction from their home, Nov. 2013.
Photo courtesy of Zhang Jianping

A Chinese couple who tried to set fire to themselves on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in protest at a forced eviction now face detention on criminal charges.

Zhang Shufeng said she and husband Zhang Deli were detained on Thursday after they arrived at Jinshui Bridge close to the huge public portrait of late supreme leader Mao Zedong, and began to douse themselves in petrol.

"We had nearly arrived at Jinshui Bridge, and I was wearing a T-shirt with slogans of injustice written on it," Zhang told RFA's Cantonese Service while in police custody after the incident.

Zhang's T-shirt bore the words: "Homeless after violent forced evictions!"

"My husband poured petrol over his body and got his lighter out and was about set it alight, when three police officers came and pinned him to the ground and snatched the lighter away from him," she said.

Zhang said the couple had been escorted back to their home district of Shunyi by local police following the incident, where they now face criminal detention.

"First they dragged us off to the Tiananmen branch police station, then they informed Shunyi district, and some police came from there," she said. "The Tiananmen police gave them our bottle of petrol and my protest T-shirt."

"When we get back, we will surely be detained," Zhang added. "The state security police said we'd probably be sentenced to jail."

An officer who answered the phone at the Shunyi police department on Thursday declined to comment, however, saying they were unaware of the case.

Longtime petitioners

Both the Zhangs were disabled in beatings by officials and labor camp guards, Zhang Shufeng said.

Zhang Deli was beaten by a group of unidentified men after he went to confront his daughter's teacher after she was scolded and humiliated in class.

Zhang Shufeng began petitioning over her husband's injuries, which left him unable to walk, in 2001, and was herself sentenced twice to "re-education through labor," where the harsh working conditions and treatment at the hands of prison guards left her unable to work.

In 2009, the couple began a long stand-off with Beijing authorities during which they were left with no water, heating, or electricity.

They were eventually forcibly evicted and their home demolished at the end of last year, Zhang Shufeng said.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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