Much-criticised regulation on petitions toned down

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am


Shenzhen has revised a controversial new regulation on petitions, removing most of the contentious content after an earlier draft was criticised as an attempt to curb civil rights.

The new regulation will, however, still strengthen a ban on mass petitioning. The regulation has been finalised and will come into effect from next month, the Guangzhou Daily reported yesterday.

The final version says no more than five representatives will be allowed to petition over the same case, and urges petitioners to raise complaints via letters, e-mails and faxes rather than face-to-face visits.

It says petitioners who disturb public order will be punished. It outlaws unauthorised petitioning at or near key government offices, venues for public events or important functions and main roads. Illegal gathering, lingering, blocking roads or exits, intercepting cars, nagging, insulting or assaulting officials will also be banned, as will threatening to commit suicide or kidnap, burn or bomb officials and their families.

Several controversial clauses have been removed from the first draft released in February, including a ban on petitioners wearing 'disgusting' or 'dreadful' clothing and using props for their appeals. A ban on people with contagious diseases visiting petition offices was also removed.

Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said the law would limit the rights of petitioners but would not be able to stop the public in the long run.

'The Shenzhen authorities might appear to be stiff and conservative, but the civil awareness of its residents is high,' Tang said. 'The trend of resolving social and legal injustice by petitioning is unstoppable ... these laws might deter but they will not crush the spirit of petitioners who are determined to fight injustice.

'When laws set out to seriously infringe people's rights, their legal power will also perish, and people will cease to follow them.'

In 2009, the Shenzhen authorities outlawed 14 types of behaviour as 'irregular petitioning'. Those petitioning at central or Shenzhen government headquarters, Tiananmen Square, embassies and other sensitive places could be detained or sent to labour camps, while petitioners who shouted slogans, carried banners or distributed materials appealing for redress would be deemed to be creating a public disturbance. Petitioners were banned from assaulting or threatening public servants.