China's third plenum

Petitioners 'living in fear' as police crackdown ahead of third plenum

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 12:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 3:01am

Police and local governments across the mainland have been rounding up petitioners, keeping activists under close watch and warning rights lawyers to keep a low profile as security is stepped up ahead of the Communist Party Central Committee’s third plenary meeting that begins on Saturday.

Large numbers of petitioners from across the country, wishing to bring their grievances to the attention of party leaders, have congregated in the capital in recent days ahead of the key four-day meeting where key decisions on the country’s future are expected to be made.

Since early imperial times, petitioning has been a traditional means for people to voice their grievances to officials. In modern times, it is more often a last recourse when attempts to seek redress through the legal system are unsuccessful.

Petitioners said that thousands of people had been detained by police or held at “black jails” – usually flats or hotels but sometimes much larger unofficial detention centres on the outskirts of Beijing where petitioners are held until they are sent back to their home provinces. Other petitioners had been barred by their local officials from travelling to Beijing, they said.

Petitioners say security in the capital has been tighter during the past week than during other politically sensitive periods such as the National People’s Congress, with squads of police and security officers guarding street corners near Tiananmen Square, train and bus stations and other places where petitioners tend to congregate.

Wu Lijuan, a petitioner from Hubei, said that about 70 redundant state bank workers who went to protest on Tuesday outside Zhongnanhai, the top leadership compound, were rounded up and sent to Majialou, one of the larger black jails.

Wu, who has been sentenced to a laojiao (re-education through labour) camp for a year in 2008, also said thousands of former state bank employees had been sent to another huge black jail, Jiujingzhuang.

Petitioner Li Xiaodong, from Liaoning, said he was hiding at a private residence and dared not stay at guest houses, where petitioners often find themselves arrested when their names turn up on police lists when their identity cards are registered on computers at check in.

“I live in fear for my life, every day,” said the veteran petitioner who has not been home for six years. “Thugs [at home] said they would beat me to death if they saw me again.”

During the past week, state media reported that local authorities had warned officials to be alert ahead of the plenum.

Local television in Tongzhou, on the outskirts of Beijing, reported on Monday that village and township governments should make “anti-terrorism and anti-riot preparations” their priority to “safeguard the capital’s stability”– an apparent reference to the last week’s explosion on Tiananmen Square, which the government said was a terrorist attack.

Authorities in the Western district of the capital said on Friday that local police and officials must check and register the identity papers of all visitors “in every district and every house” to ensure safety and stability.

The Zhanjiang Daily in Guangdong reported on Tuesday that local governments should target petitioners “who are prone to aggressive behaviour” and “keep potential troublemakers under 24-hour surveillance”.

While authorities stopped sending petitioners to loajiao earlier this year, police still place many of them for shorter periods under administrative or criminal detention. Many other petitioners, meanwhile, are sent home for “law education classes” – another form of unauthorised detention that can last for months.

One of them, Wu Jinxiu, said she was held in one for 105 days before being released in June. She was now hiding in a village outside Beijing.

Other activists around the country said they had been placed under stricter surveillance in the past week.

Veteran activist Hu Jia said he had been under house arrest in Beijing since October 29, and was told by police not to post his views online. Liu Feiyue, who runs a human rights website in Hubei, said he had been followed by two people since last Saturday.

Beijing-based dissident He Depu said two guards and a police car parked outside his home while another two officers followed him when he left the house.

Veteran Shanghai activist Mao Hengfeng’s husband said local police told the couple they would be taken away from Shanghai for a “holiday” during the plenum.

Rights lawyer Li Fangping said police told him not to post his opinions on his microblog or talk to overseas media. Lawyer Li Xiongbing wrote on his microblog that he had been told to keep a low-profile and avoid meeting foreigners.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau and the Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment.