Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that tens of thousands of petitioners from all over China have recently been detained in Beijing, with many suffering abusive conditions in custody.
According to HRIC’s sources in China, police detained more than 36,000 petitioners in the first few days of September. The detentions have apparently been spurred by a desire to ensure public order in advance of a meeting of the Central Committee of the 16th Party Congress next week. Because of the speed and scale of the massive police operation, informed sources say an accurate number of detentions has been hard to obtain, and the actual number could be double the current estimate. One source reported that police were seen loading petitioners into 8 vans outside of the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing on September 3. Another eyewitness, Wu Lishan, said that elsewhere on the same day he saw three police buses crammed with petitioners being transported westward.
A number of people have told HRIC that petitioners have been detained without legal cause and without any warrants or other legal documents presented. Police officers have been seen storming into petitioner settlements and breaking down makeshift structures, confiscating and destroying personal belongings. Detained petitioners have been transported to collection points such as the courtyard at Youanmen, from which they are then transferred to a “concentration camp” in the basement of the sports stadium at Shijingshan, where they are obliged to wait until public security police from their locations of origin can arrive to pick them up and force them to return home.
Sources say that police monitor every movement of the detained petitioners, many of whom have been brutally beaten or otherwise abused. Some of the abuses reported to HRIC include sustained beating and kicking of detainees, and prodding in the face with high-voltage electric batons. A petitioner from Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, Yue Yongjin, escaped from detention on September 6 covered in bruises. A petitioner from Dalian City, Liaoning Province, Song Jiagui, was beaten unconscious by police outside of the Supreme People’s Court. HRIC has also been told that police from Benxi City, Liaoning Province have drugged the food they feed their detainees before loading them into windowless vehicles and transporting them to the Benxi City Detention Center.
Sources report to HRIC that many of the detained petitioners have previously been persecuted for their efforts to defend national and public interests. For example, Yue Yongjin was elected by fellow villagers as their village head and representative to petition Beijing over land confiscation issues. Yue had for some years been exposing the corruption of local officials and leading peasant opposition to the illegal sale of agricultural land. After being exposed to life-threatening attacks by thugs hired by corrupt officials, Yue and his wife, Liu Hua, arrived in Beijing, where they have been living under great hardship while petitioning the central government to intervene. HRIC has made inquiries with residents of Yue’s home village, all of whom confirm his story.
Indeed, even the central government has not refuted the claims of petitioners, and recently reported to the news media that more than 90 percent of the complaints made by petitioners were valid. But finding itself unable to handle the rapidly expanding masses of petitioners arriving in Beijing, the government has chosen suppressive action. Facing this new form of oppression, a number of the petitioners have confronted the police with cries of, “Down with corruption! Down with Fascism!” Many of those forcibly returned to their homes make their way once more to Beijing, where they gather around train stations and other public areas and decry the government’s corrupt and illicit acts.
Sources say there are a number of indications that the central government has orchestrated this recent crackdown with the cooperation of public security bureaus from all over China. Police involved in the mass detention operations bear identification that indicates origins outside of Beijing. Observers have recorded license plate number that show many participating police vehicles coming from the outlying provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Liaoning and Heilongjiang as well as distant cities such as Shanghai. Petitioners quote some of arresting officers as saying they have been promised a bounty of 500 yuan for each petitioner they remove from Beijing, and that if they return empty-handed they will be fined 500 yuan. For that reason, the police officers have no interest in any woeful stories of injustice that the petitioners present to them, but detain any and all they can lay their hands on.
“The Chinese government always feels impelled to round up social malcontents before any major national or international event,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “This activity is not only unfair to people who have every right to express their grievances, but it exacerbates discontent and social instability. The majority of these petitioners are only in Beijing because they have suffered injustice at the hands of officials, and this kind of abusive police action only victimizes them further. The right to petition is guaranteed in China’s constitution, with no exceptions made for major events. The central government should show its respect for the constitution by taking whatever means are necessary to redress the injustice these people have suffered, rather than to add to their oppression.”
Human Rights in China is an international monitoring and advocacy non-governmental organization based in New York and Hong Kong. Founded in March 1989 by Chinese scientists and scholars, it conducts research, education and outreach programs to promote universally recognized human rights and advance the institutional protection of these rights in the People’s Republic of China.