Shenzhen to punish petitioners who threaten to injure themselves

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 March, 2011, 12:00am

Shenzhen, which prides itself on being the mainland's most open city, has set new ground rules for potential petitioners, in a move seen as an attempt to curb civil rights.

Targeting desperate petitioners who fail in their attempt to seek redress, the draft regulation would prohibit people from threatening to 'injure themselves, resort to violence or disturb public order.' Petitioners would also be banned from wearing 'disgusting' or 'dreadful' clothing for their appeal.

'Those who violate the regulation can be detained by the police, as well as punished according to the law,' The Southern Metropolis News quoted the draft as saying yesterday.

In 2009, Shenzhen authorities outlawed 14 types of behaviour as 'irregular petitioning', saying those petitioning at central or Shenzhen government headquarters, Tiananmen Square, embassies and other sensitive venues could be detained or sent to labour camps. It said petitioners who shouted slogans, carried banners or distributed materials appealing for redress would be deemed to be creating a public disturbance.

It also banned petitioners from assaulting or threatening public servants.

Desperate petitioners who fail to win redress sometimes commit suicide, including by jumping off buildings or burning themselves. Last year, a 68-year-old pig farmer in Donghai county, Jiangsu, burned himself to death while his 92-year-old father suffered serious burns in a confrontation with a demolition team after the government seized their farm to build an expressway. Newspapers said the family had invested more than 200,000 yuan (HK$237,000) on the pig farm since 1995, but the government offered only 75,000 yuan in compensation.

In 2009, a woman from Chengdu, Sichuan, also burned herself to death during a confrontation with housing officials and a demolition team after the government seized her house for development.

Jing Kaixuan, a professor at Nanjing University, said authorities should discuss why petitioners took such extreme measures rather than trying to outlaw them.

'Why would a petitioner fear legal punishment for his crazy behaviour if he or she doesn't even fear death?' he added.

Shenzhen is not the only city where petitioning is considered a crime if it is repeated and causes 'serious consequences'.

Beijing has forbidden petitioners from threatening suicide or injuring themselves since 2006, saying such acts were crimes in themselves.

Last year, a deputy to the National People's Congress, who was in charge of legal affairs in a regional legislature, proposed that petitioners who 'seriously disrupted the normal lives and work of local government leaders' should be jailed for up to 15 years.

His remarks attracted criticism from internet users, lawyers and petitioners.