Beijing has renewed its warning to people not to abuse the petition system, vowing to seriously handle 'unreasonable demands' that upset the social order.
The remarks, made by the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, came despite a rare acknowledgment by top officials of an increase in the number of protests across the country, lifting hopes for a more open attitude towards the handling of people's grievances.
Early last month, Public Security chief Zhou Yongkang called on local officials to attach high importance to resolving such conflicts at an early stage.
In remarks published by Xinhua at the weekend, a bureau spokesman lauded the improvements to the petition system since the introduction of greater transparency in May. Local authorities were given deadlines to settle petition appeals filed by aggrieved citizens in an attempt to shed the image of petition offices as powerless mailboxes.
'But we need to be aware that there still exists the phenomenon of disrupting social order,' the spokesman said.
'Some people are organising illegal multi-regional unions and gatherings under the banner of a petition, and some are demanding excessive and unreasonable requests with the excuse of defending rights.'
Hu Xingdou , from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the remarks highlighted a dilemma faced by Beijing.
'The petition system cannot be scrapped because the judicial system cannot work well and independently to eradicate corruption and injustice,' he said.
'But at the same time, [the authorities] want to refrain from attaching too much importance to the system because more petitions will mean a higher degree of social instability.'
Under the system, it is illegal to assemble around or break into government office buildings or public places. It is also illegal to disrupt traffic or impede officials vehicles to submit a petition.
Professor Hu said the petition law still gave the government a lot of room to clamp down on people it regarded as troublemakers. Under the revised regulation, the number of representatives involved in any case can be no more than five.
'That number can be easily surpassed in some wide-ranging cases,' Professor Hu said.
'How can you not go near an office buildings to file a petition? Why has it been made so difficult for people to meet their own officials?'