Liu Xiaobo

Scandalous treatment for an aggrieved group

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 January, 2009, 12:00am


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When state leaders have time and again reiterated that 'putting the people first' has to be the guiding philosophy of policymaking, it is disheartening to see ordinary people being locked up for daring to tell the mainland authorities what they think and want.

Prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo has been kept under 'residential surveillance' at an undisclosed location since last month for what is believed to be his role in drafting and signing a public appeal to promote human rights and democracy in China. As Beijing has long been sensitive to any moves that might challenge the Communist regime's legitimacy, the detention of Mr Liu, which is a grave violation of his personal liberty, was not unexpected.

But yesterday's decision to detain a group of parents who had been scheduled to hold a press conference on the melamine affair was downright scandalous. The group had hoped to air their dissatisfaction with the government's compensation plan for their children, who were sickened by infant milk powder contaminated by the industrial chemical. But they were taken away by police before they were able to speak out. Other parents who escaped detention had their press conference booking at a guest house cancelled.

There is no question that the actions against these parents were high-handed and totally unnecessary. These are ordinary people who have been traumatised by a man-made disaster that has ruined the health of their babies and for which many have become heavily in debt because of the high cost of medical treatment.

In other jurisdictions, where the rule of law prevails, people suffering a similar plight would have taken their cases to court for adjudication by an impartial panel. But this channel is not available on the mainland, where the courts, under instruction from the authorities, have refused to accept compensation claims related to the melamine affair. In the circumstances, parents of the sickened children cannot be blamed for trying to air their frustrations. Even if their demands for compensation were over the top, they deserve to be heard and dealt with in a civilised manner.