Two Hunan officials have been photographed making fun of a petitioner suffering from cancer outside a provincial government building, infuriating Chinese netizens.
Several photos have emerged on an online forum showing petitioner Duan Xinde leaning on a walking stick as two people standing on either side of him are seen laughing and making victory signs.
Duan, a petitioner from Linli county in Northern Hunan province who is suffering from lung cancer, told The Beijing News that the photos were taken in mid-November when he was petitioning outside a Hunan government compound about a dispute with a local water company.
The two other people in the photos were local officials, Duan said, and the photos were taken by his wife as the officials were attempting to drag him away. When Duan’s wife warned the officials she would take photos of them, they posed for the photos which were eventually circulated on the internet.
Pang Yewen, director of Linli Bureau of Letters and Calls, which deals with public petitions, confirmed to The Beijing News that the two people in the photos were a member of staff from his bureau and a local public security official. He said they were ordered to bring Duan and his wife back to Linli county, a normal local government practice when citizens resort to staging petitions out of town.
“I have already criticised them [the officials],” Peng told the newspaper but said the member of staff under his command was on holiday and therefore unavailable for comment.
Peng was also quoted further explaining that the pair were laughing at the time because they were happy to learn that Duan was recovering from cancer.
Responding to Peng’s remarks, Duan said, “Do you think I look like I am cheered in the photos?”
The report has since drawn widespread anger from microbloggers in China who said the officials were “cold-blooded” and “arrogant”.
“I really can’t sense their happiness at his recovery. To me they look more like they are taking pleasure in the man’s suffering,” one blogger commented.
“Instead of relentlessly intercepting petitioners, which is a waste of time and money, officials should be trying to solve their problems,” another said.
Many Chinese petitioners, seeking resolution on local disputes, take their grievances to provincial governments and sometimes the central government in Beijing, which is seen by authorities as destabilising. Local officials have been ordered to stop petitioners at all costs, which frequently results in illegal detentions and violence.
In a bid to ease the pressure placed on local officials, it is reported that the Chinese central government is planning to scrap an official ranking system that grades local officials according to petitioner numbers.