Protest application calls for rejoicing
Petitioners in Tianjin are excited that police have accepted an application to stage a protest on Sunday, which marks the annual National Law Publicity Day - although they hold little hope that their application will actually be approved.
Mainland citizens have the right to protest under the Chinese constitution, provided they apply for police approval five days in advance. In reality, not only are approved protests almost unheard of, but even the acceptance of applications is rare.
Representatives for the 175 petitioners - involved in cases including forced demolitions, labour disputes and judicial corruption - said they first submitted their application on Friday but were asked to change its contents several times before the form was finally accepted yesterday.
The form requires many details, including the purpose and route of the rally, the number of loudspeakers and even the actual slogans to be used. Usually, police reject applications on the basis that the forms have not been filled out properly or contained inadequate information.
The representatives said they felt encouraged, even though a police officer in charge had told them that they were unlikely to get approval.
'Nevertheless, we thank the [police team in charge of protests] for their support in accepting this application,' said Gao Xianghong, who twice applied for a permit to protest last year but was unsuccessful both times. 'The acceptance itself is significant, because it's a recognition of our constitutional right to protest.'
Another representative, Zhang Jianzhong, said they had made major compromises with police, including cutting more than 20 slogans down to only four. One of the slogans they forwent was 'Bring down corrupt officials'. The ones deemed acceptable were: 'It's not a crime to petition', 'Implement the constitution', 'Citizens must abide by the law and the government must talk about integrity' and 'The key to socialism is equality and justice'.
Beijing set up protest zones during the Olympics, but no protests took place. Officials said 74 of the 77 applications withdrew after the grievances were resolved through other means. Human rights groups said protesters were detained or harassed; two old women were threatened with one year in a labour camp.