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Harbin Woman Allegedly Persecuted for Exercising Her Right to Petition

January 7, 2003

For Immediate Release

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that a woman visiting Beijing to present a petition was detained under suspicious circumstances and is now scheduled to appear in a Beijing court on January 9 in relation to an alleged assault.

Zhang Gonglai, a Harbin nursery school teacher, is alleged to have assaulted another woman with whom she was sharing a room in a hostel in Beijing’s western district. But sources say that Beijing authorities are actually using this petty incident as an excuse to persecute Zhang, who was in Beijing submitting petitions regarding a long string of injustices resulting from her giving birth without authorization in 1989.

HRIC learned of the case from Chen Shizhong, a Chinese resident of Sweden, and another of Zhang’s friends, Chen Qi, who have been collecting information in an effort to bring Zhang’s case to the attention of the outside world. Some of the documents provided by Chen Shizhong, including Zhang Gonglai’s petition dated May 25, 2002 and two published reports, are appended to the accompanying Chinese press release.

According to the information provided, Zhang Gonglai, aged 46, graduated from the Harbin Chinese Women’s League Early Education Normal College in 1981 and in July 1988 was hired as a nursery school teacher at the college affiliated No.2 Nursery School. She married that same year at the age of 31, and although she had initially agreed not to have a baby within two years, on her doctor’s advice because of her relatively advanced age Zhang became pregnant the next year. As a result Zhang was not allowed to return to work after she completed her maternity leave in 1989, and was deprived of any of the normal benefits for her child, even though she had not contravened China’s One Child Policy.

Over the next two years Zhang repeatedly petitioned Harbin officials and Heilongjiang provincial authorities demanding reinstatement of her job, restoration of her good name, and compensation for lost income, but without result. Finally in 1991 the Harbin Municipal Secretariat intervened and obliged the nursery school to admit wrongdoing in Zhang’s case and allow her to resume her employment after a further leave of absence. But six months later when Zhang attempted to return to work, nursery school officials refused to admit her.

Zhang continued to petition for reinstatement, and finally on July 29, 1998 went to the Heilongjiang provincial offices carrying a placard listing her complaints and demands. Provincial officials contacted Zhang’s former employers and told them to deal with the problem. Instead, Zhang claims, two headmistresses of the nursery school had her committed to the Harbin Psychiatric Hospital, where she was kept for a week before managing to get word out to her family concerning her whereabouts. Harbin officials told Zhang she would be released if she agreed not to deliver any more petitions, but she refused to accept that condition. As a result, despite the efforts of Zhang and her family members, she remained incarcerated in unspeakable conditions and was forced to accept unnecessary psychiatric treatment for nearly four years before finally being discharged in poor health last year.

After her discharge Zhang decided to petition the Beijing government regarding her incarceration in the psychiatric hospital, along with her previous complaints regarding her dismissal and deprivation of livelihood and benefits. On August 20, 2002 she was arrested for the alleged assault of a woman sharing her room at the Yun Lai Hostel in Beijing’s Western District. According to a source familiar with the situation, Zhang did have a dispute with the woman in question, but merely kicked her in self-defense while the other woman was assaulting her, and the woman suffered no lasting harm. This source claims that Zhang was arrested after Beijing and Heilongjiang officials conferred over how to put an end to Zhang’s endless petitioning. Zhang’s case will be heard on January 9 at the Beijing Western District People’s Court in an open trial starting at 9 a.m. Zhang’s friends are encouraging media and others concerned with the case to attend the trial.

According to HRIC’s sources, Zhang Gonglai’s situation is by no means unique. Reliable information indicates that over the past few months more than 30 petitioners have been committed to the Harbin Psychiatric Hospital against their will. Information regarding these incarcerations is found in court records, Public Security Bureau records, Sanitation Bureau records, and other official documents. In addition, if petitioners want to escape the deplorable conditions of the Harbin Psychiatric Hospital they have to agree to desist in their petitioning, refrain from all contact with the news media, and never speak to others about the conditions of the psychiatric hospital. Anyone who breaks any of these conditions after release risks being arrested and readmitted for “psychiatric relapse.”

HRIC deplores the use of confinement in psychiatric institutions as a means of preventing petitioners from exercising their right to express their grievances to public officials. HRIC president Liu Qing observes, “The available information indicates that there was no medical reason to confine Zhang Gonglai to a mental institution. This is a horrifying case of a woman whose human rights have been grossly abused simply because government officials regarded her as a nuisance.”

HRIC calls on the Chinese government to stop using psychiatric hospitals for punitive purposes. At the same time HRIC hopes that the Beijing court will try Zhang Gonglai’s case based on the facts of the case and not allow itself to be used as a tool for suppressing Zhang’s constitutional right to petition the government.

For more information, contact:
Stacy Mosher (English) 212-268-9074
Liu Qing (Chinese) 212-239-4495