Guangzhou petitioners sue city for inaction
Mimi Lau in Guangzhou
Guangzhou petitioners filed a lawsuit yesterday accusing the city government of inaction in handling complaints - days after Premier Wen Jiabao paid an unprecedented visit to petitioners in Beijing.
More than a dozen people, representing a total of 42 petitioners, lodged a hearing request at the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court yesterday morning. They are trying to sue the city for failing to follow up their complaints after they were allowed to air them at a rare, large-scale reception in October.
Petitioners and rights advocates criticised the event as part of a publicity campaign designed to ease social tensions ahead of November's Asian Games in the Guangdong capital.
The mass reception on October 18 was hosted by top city officials, including Guangzhou Communist Party secretary Zhang Guangning and Mayor Wan Qingliang, as well as leading officials from 12 city districts. Many petitioners queued up overnight for a chance to get their voices heard.
Local media said nearly 4,000 complaints had been reported and the petitioners would receive replies within a month.
He Jianrong, 75, said he had submitted documents that substantiated his complaint about unfair compensation for property requisitioned in 2001 to Guangzhou city government staff that day, but had never heard back from the authorities. 'Maybe they've thrown my petition in the bin,' He said.
He described the mass reception as 'an amusement for children', because the grand promise made to process his case was never met.
Sixty-seven-year-old Su Ruilian, who has been petitioning for a pension for the past six years, said she felt cheated after submitting her complaints at the Guangzhou reception. 'I was so happy after officials received my documents, but who knew it was just another show?' she said. 'They kick me around like a ball. Who would spend that many billions on an Asian Games? Why don't they spare a few fen to make retired workers' lives more livable?'
Wen's visit to the State Bureau for Letters and Visits in Beijing on Monday received wide media coverage and stirred debate by political analysts, Web users and rights activists.
Professor Ma Huaide, vice-president of China University of Political Science and Law, was quoted by Beijing-based Legal Daily yesterday as saying that Wen's move was aimed at sending two messages: government departments should listen and understand demands of the public; and the public was encouraged to monitor the government.
Departments have made gestures to show they are taking Wen's messages seriously. The Supreme People's Court said it would set a deadline to give a clear reply to petitioners to stop old cases piling up.
But veteran petitioners like He say they know the system too well to take the promises seriously. 'Premier Wen told us to monitor the government, but with what? With a gas tank, gun or bomb? We are often cracked down on and accused of disturbing social order when petitioning.
'I've been fighting for 10 years and have petitioned to Beijing nine times already. What else can an elderly man do to get his case across?'
Guangzhou city's petition office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
Wen's visit has rekindled hopes among petitioners that solutions may be found to their cases.
Professor Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a leading expert on the subject said Wen's visit was the first gesture of its kind in the past 61 years.
Tang Jingling, a Guangzhou-based activist lawyer, said petitioners were a product of the country's political system. 'Addressing petition cases individually is not a fundamental solution to problems manufactured in bulk by the flaws of the system, such as the land grabs that people across the country are now petitioning against,' Tang said.
Petitioners have routinely been ill-treated over the years, with their grievances ignored and their trips to the capital blocked by local authorities. Those who dare to file complaints in Beijing are usually sent home and face harsh punishment from local authorities or even detention in illicit 'black jails'.