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Petitioners Detained in Advance of New Law

April 28, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has received reports of a nationwide crackdown against petitioners as the date approaches for implementation of China’s new petitions regulations, which coincides with the long holiday weekend marking Labor Day on May 1.

Sources in China told HRIC that hundreds of petitioners have been rounded up, detained and beaten in Beijing, Shanghai and northeastern China. In one incident in Beijing around mid-day on April 27, dozens of petitioners from Shanghai, including Du Yangming, Wang Liqing and Chen Zaili, were reportedly surrounded by more than 100 police officers as they left their hostel for the State Council’s Letters and Petitions Office. Police reportedly forced the petitioners into waiting vehicles and transported them to a place called Majialou, where more than 600 other petitioners from places such as Liaoning, Jilin and Shanghai were already being held. The new group of petitioners were released the next day and escorted to the train station, where police put them aboard the next train bound for Shanghai.

This was the second time some of these petitioners had been rounded up in the past few days. According to HRIC’s sources, a group of more than 200 petitioners from Shanghai boarded a Beijing-bound train on April 24, only to encounter more than 100 police officers and officials from the Letters and Petitions Office, who began detaining the petitioners as soon as the train left the station. When the train reached Changzhou around 9:00 that evening, police and officials reportedly removed more than 70 of the petitioners from the train, with four to five officials handling any petitioner who put up resistance. HRIC’s sources say some of the petitioners, including Du Yangming, Shen Yongmei and Gu Zhigang, were beaten, with Du Yangming injured severely enough to require treatment at the Changzhou No. 1 Hospital. Also forced from the train were Chou Baoquan and Pan Yiwei, a blind couple who had lost their home in the urban redevelopment scheme headed by Shanghai tycoon Zhou Zhengyi.

Most of the Shanghai petitioners detained in Beijing were petitioning over the loss of their homes in redevelopment projects. However, some complained of other forms of injustice. For example, Wu Xinlong has been petitioning since his hand was broken during a police interrogation in 1995. Most of the petitioners, like Wu, have been pressing their cases for years, with many visiting Beijing more than ten times, and some more than 30 times. Many of the petitioners have been detained repeatedly because of their petitioning activities, and they report that 70 to 80 among them have been sent to Reeducation Through Labor camps as a result of their petitioning. 

The petitioners said that during their most recent detention in Beijing, they were obliged to submit to photographing and other evidence-recording before they were given anything to eat. Even at that, during a detention lasting one day and one night, they said they were given only two small steamed rolls to eat, and were forced to sleep exposed to the elements. But the petitioners say they feel compelled to continue with their petitioning in spite of such abusive treatment, because the injustices they have suffered have left them with nothing else.

The president of the Supreme People’s Court, Xiao Yang, reported in March that the Supreme Court handled 147,665 petition cases in 2004, an increase of 23.6 percent over 2003, while local courts handled 4.22 million cases, an increase of 6.2 percent. Zhou Yongkang, the head of the State Council’s Letters and Petitions Office, said in November 2003 that letters and petitions offices nationwide had handled 8.64 million petitions in the first three quarters of 2002 alone. He observed that more than 80 percent of the petitions reflected valid complaints and difficulties arising from China’s development and reform.

The revised petitions regulations to be enacted on May 1 are meant to streamline and modernize the complaints process to better serve petitioners’ rights. The new regulations stipulate that “no organization or individual is allowed to retaliate against petitioners, and offenders will be held to account.”

“Whether the government is preparing for implementation of the new Petitions Law, or whether it’s trying to improve public order before the holiday weekend, there is no excuse for detaining people engaged in lawful and constitutionally protected behavior,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “Chinese officials have acknowledged that upwards of 80 percent of all petitions pose valid complaints. The government should address these complaints rather than adding to the injustice these people have already suffered.”