Shenzhen petitioners may be sent to labour camps
Petitioners in Shenzhen could be sent to labour camps unless they abide by a stringent new set of rules that appear aimed at limiting the channels for protest and punishing those who persist with complaints.
The move was condemned by petitioners and criticised by lawyers, and comes at a time when the central government is urging local authorities to improve their handling of social unrest and track dissent more carefully. It also marks a departure from Shenzhen's efforts to cultivate an image as a leader of economic and social reform on the mainland.
The new rules, published by mainland media yesterday, target those who make 'abnormal' petitions or protests. Those recorded twice would be given a verbal warning; those with a verbal warning would be detained if they made a third 'abnormal' complaint; and those who had been detained would be sent to a labour camp for up to three years if they made a fourth.
Fourteen different types of 'abnormal' petitioners were identified. They included people who travelled to Beijing and petitioned in sensitive political areas, those who protested in the city centre without official approval or blocked traffic, and those who chanted slogans and distributed printed materials during a protest.
The announcement also covered those who 'disturbed cadres' work' and those who 'scared the public', for example by attempting suicide or carrying ashes.
The state-run Shenzhen Special Zone Daily said the government would hand out 'severe' punishment to those who encouraged others to join their petition or protest.
The regulation, in effect since November 3, was approved by the highest authority in the city, the standing committee of the municipal party committee.
Petitioners in Shenzhen reacted with fury when they heard the news yesterday.
'It can only irritate people,' said a Shenzhen resident who has frequently protested about a housing dispute. 'We won't hesitate to protest again. I will give my life to protest and fight for my rights.'
The petitioner, who would not give his name for fear of reprisals, said he was part of a group that had protested several times outside a local government building over shoddy construction at the Taoyuancun public-housing project. Dozens of his neighbours had been detained.
'We won't be deterred by the announcement. We went to the provincial government to appeal in October. We will go to Beijing if the local government doesn't give us justice.'
Sun Haiyang, whose son was kidnapped years ago and who has filed petitions seeking help in Guangzhou, Dongguan, Beijing and Hangzhou, described the local government as 'bullies'.
'It won't scare me, as I already have nothing,' he said. 'Why do we petition frequently? Because authorities misconduct themselves and ignore our pain. Why don't they try to help us, instead of hurting us?'
Shanghai rights lawyer Yao Jianguo said the definitions of 'abnormal' petitions and protests were vague and open to interpretation. 'What exactly is 'scaring the public' or 'disturbing cadres' work'? The standard could be different.'
Liu Zilong, a Shenzhen-based activist lawyer, said the municipal government had overstepped its authority, as only the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate could make interpretations on laws regarding civil liberties. 'Most petitioners are looking for justice after their rights have been violated by local governments. This announcement sends a very bad signal to the public, namely that bureaucrats shield each other by punishing and deterring petitioners.'