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'I am scared': Chinese creator of White House petition seeks help after police visit

Blogger was garnering support against controversial petrochemical plant in Pengzhou

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 10:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 12:30pm

When a Chengdu blogger created a White House petition last week against a controversial petrochemical plant in Pengzhou, the young woman wasn’t expecting a response from security agents back at home.

She was contacted days after the city of Chengdu mobilised thousands of police officers and security agents to quell a protest  against the 40 billion yuan (HK$50 billion) plant - now in its final construction phase - that eventually fizzled out on May 4.

“Please delete the petition,” a security agent told the blogger. The blogger, who did not want to be named, told the South China Morning Post that the agent had tracked her down from her registration information on Weibo and invited her to "tea", an euphemism for a police interrogation. The agent had insisted that she withdraw the post from the White House website, she said.

But the US website does not allow petitions to be deleted. Frustrated and fearing retaliation, the blogger posted again on Weibo:

“Help needed! Will someone please tell me how to delete a White House petition? The police have talked to me, and I am scared.”

Another blogger responded: “Looks like you need to start another White House petition to have the first one deleted.”

The post seeking help was deleted by censors two days later.

The petition, fraught with grammatical errors, pleaded for international attention to the environmental risks posed by the petrochemical project. It has collected more 2,000 signatures by Tuesday. Petitions need to gather 100,000 signatures in 30 days to qualify for a White House response.

Once complete, the Pengzhou plant, about 20 kilometres away from the Sichuan capital, will process 10 million tonnes of crude oil and produce 800,000 tonnes of ethylene annually, said its major investor PetroChina.

Although the government has said new technology would reduce pollution, many residents in Chengdu continued to question the legitimacy of the plant and refused to believe it would be “harmless”. Concerns were also raised over the plant’s proximity to an earthquake fault line.

“We promise not to start production unless the plant passes environmental protection tests,” reads a statement from PetroChina. The state-owned company had also said in a controversial interview that contrary to public perception, the plant would relieve Chengdu's air pollution woes, since by then motor vehicles in Sichuan will be using higher-grade gasoline produced by the plant.

But many Chengdu residents seemed unconvinced and carried on the discussion on weibo, citing media reports and expert opinions drastically different from the official ones.

Censorship and retaliation of the online discussions have only worsened. 

Xiao Xuehui and Ran Yunfei, renowned Chengdu scholars and firm opponents of the project, had their Sina Weibo accounts deleted last week by censors after protesting vehemently online.

Another outspoken voice of the project, a Chengdu native who now lives in Guangzhou, said four security agents from Chengdu had flown to Guangzhou to track her down, after visiting her 80-year-old father in Chengdu. Luckily, the address they had was an outdated one.

“Four police officers,” she told the Post. “I couldn’t imagine what would have happened if they had found me.”

"If the Chengdu police go out of their jurisdiction to make an arrest in Guangzhou, it will be nothing but adbudction," said her lawyer, Sui Muqing.