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Protesting for Justice

July 20, 2011

Kneeling Is Not a Crime. In front of the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, December 28, 2009. Photo by Du Bin.

Photographer’s Note: A petitioner kneels before the gates of the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, in the hope that a judge would listen to her grievances. But the judges — like the two policemen on duty here — turn a blind eye.

Ai Weiwei’s “River Crab” Party. Shanghai, November 7, 2010. Photo by Ma Yalian.

Editors’ Note: In 2007, internationally-renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was invited by the Shanghai authorities to build his studio in the city’s northern Jiading District. In September 2010, the government ordered the demolition of the newly completed studio that cost 7 million yuan to build, citing “violations of building regulations” (违章建筑). Ai believed that this act was intended to punish him for his activism on behalf of the victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai organized a “River Crab Party” to “commemorate the building’s life and death.” This party also served as a mockery of the authorities, since the Chinese characters for “river crab” (河蟹, he xie) are homophones of the characters for “harmony” (和谐, hexie), a concept that the Chinese authorities have been extolling in recent years. Officials in Beijing put Ai under house arrest to prevent him from attending the party. However, the party was held as planned, and nearly one thousand people attended, including netizens, petitioners, and plain clothes policemen. The studio was torn down on January 11, 2011. Ai Weiwei was detained on April 3, 2011, and was released on June 22, 2011, on a 12-month bail. The authorities said that he was released on account of his “good attitude in confessing his crimes.” A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said on June 23 that Ai may not leave Beijing without official permission.

A Mother’s Love. Xincai County People’s Court, Henan Province, February 11, 2011. Photo by a Citizen Reporter.

Note from a Rights Activist: When a police van was about to take Tian Xi, an HIV/AIDS activist, from the courthouse after his conviction, Tian’s mother ran up and blocked the van with her own body to keep it from taking away her son. Tian’s mother said: “As long as I breathe, I will appeal. I am determined to appeal.”

Editors’ Note: Tian Xi, 24, is an HIV/AIDS activist in Henan who contracted HIV and hepatitis at age 9 from a tainted blood transfusion at the No. 1 People’s Hospital in Xincai. For years, Tian has petitioned for compensation. In August 2009, after the head of the hospital told him that the hospital would not give him compensation and walked out of a meeting with him, Tian smashed office equipment out of anger. On February 11, 2011, Tian was convicted of “intentional destruction of property” (故意破坏财物罪) and sentenced to one year in prison. Tian appealed, on April 22, 2011, but the Zhumadian Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Henan upheld the original verdict and sentence.

In Henan Province in the 1990s, large numbers of blood transactions and transfusions resulted in the spread of AIDS. Henan official estimates put the cumulative number of people infected in the province at nearly 50,000 by the end of 2010, while unofficial estimates put the number in the hundreds of thousands.

“I Want to File a Case.” Pudong New District Court, Shanghai, January 12, 2011. Photo by Doctor Zhan.

Photographer’s Note: On the afternoon of January 12, 2011, more than 50 petitioners gathered in front of the Pudong courthouse for the “I Want to File a Case” protest, organized by Feng Zhenghu, a Shanghai-based activist and legal educator. Feng has documented 158 cases that 47 Shanghai citizens tried to file at 16 Shanghai courts, but the cases were stalled by these courts for a collective total of 111,357 days. On the day of the protest, the petitioners went through the security check to go to the Case Filing Office. When the staff members at the receiving window of the Case Filing Office saw the protesters come in, they all left and refused to deal with the petitioners. One staff member even threatened to beat up the petitioners. Some staff members asked their supervisor to come out to “mediate.” They then took the petitioners from the Case Filing Office into the Office of Letters and Visits. Thus, the petitioners’ protest to file cases was turned into petitioning.

Rights Defender Ni Yulan Uses Computer by Candlelight. Beijing, January 1, 2011. Photo by Dong Jiqin, husband of Ni Yulan.

Photographer’s Note: Our home was demolished. When my wife Ni Yulan was released from prison on April 14, 2010, we were forced to live in poverty on the streets. After two months, thanks to the support of rights activists, officers from the Xicheng District Police Station in Beijing were forced to put us up temporarily in Room 1018 at the Yuxingong Guesthouse. Afterwards, the police asked us to leave several times, but we refused. Beginning on December 20, 2010, until today, the guesthouse cut off our room’s power, water, and Internet access. This photograph shows Ni reading e-mail in her room in the temporary housing unit. Her computer’s battery, when fully charged, only lasts for two hours. In the evening, she must rely on candlelight.

Editors’ Note: Ni Yulan, a lawyer, began petitioning in 2002 after being beaten by the police and detained for 75 days for photographing scenes of a forced demolition. She served two prison terms, 2004-2006 and 2008-2010. The latter term followed the forced demolition of her home in Beijing. As a result of many severe beatings and physical abuses in prison, Ni lost the ability to walk. After being released from prison in April 2010, Ni and Dong, homeless, pitched a tent in a park in Beijing, which attracted many spectators. They became vivid symbols of the government crackdown on rights defense activists. On April 7, 2011, Ni and Dong were taken into custody, and Ni was criminally detained on suspicion of “creating a disturbance” (寻衅滋事罪). As of June 2011, there has been no information on Dong’s situation.

Hu Xiaomei Airing Grievances on Behalf of Wrongfully Imprisoned Daughter. Outside the People’s Square metro station, Shanghai, October 23, 2009. Photo by Jin Yuehua.

Editors’ Note: On the day that Shanghai petitioner Duan Chunfang was sentenced to one and a half years of imprisonment, her mother, Hu Xiaomei, told Duan’s story to passersby.

Duan Chunfang had been petitioning the authorities for redress for the death of her brother, Duan Huimin, while he was serving a Reeducation-Through-Labor (RTL) sentence in 2007. Duan and her brother began petitioning the authorities in 2000, after their home was demolished by the government and he lost his job. In November 2006, while petitioning in Beijing, Duan Huimin was beaten by a group of more than 10 people who were sent by the Shanghai authorities to stop Shanghai petitioners from petitioning in Beijing. After he was brought back to Shanghai, he was sentenced to 13 months of RTL. While he was in custody, his condition worsened, and on December 31, 2006, the RTL authorities decided to let him serve the remainder of his sentence outside of the RTL facility. When he was being returned home, he asked to be taken to the hospital. Instead, the RTL personnel abandoned him on the street. He died two days after his family retrieved him. On June 23, 2009, Duan Chunfang was beaten by a dozen or so policemen and was injured. She was then accused of assaulting policemen, and charged with “obstructing official business” (妨碍公务罪). Afterwards she was sentenced to one year in prison. Duan was released in January 2011.

Eye-Catching Slogans Show Anger. Sanxinjiayuan, Taipingmenzhi Street, Jianggan District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, November 28, 2009. Photo by Shi Shi.

Photographer’s Note: On October 28, 2009, at the Sanxinjiayuan apartment building at Taiping Gate Zhijie, in Jinggan District of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, nearly every family whose home faced the street hung banners on their balconies. In the morning sun, the yellow slogans against the red background were eye-catching, spectacular, and stirring! The property owners here are former residents of Sancha Village, in Jianggan District in Hangzhou, whose homes and farmland were turned into a residential community and commercial streets because of urbanization. But there was serious corruption among the village cadres when they were handing out relocation funds. These banners expressed the villagers’ anger.

Ironically, Sanxinjianyuan is just 100 meters from the Jianggan District People’s Court and 200 meters from the district government. The banners were displayed for a full month, yet no one acted to uphold justice for the villagers. On the contrary, the village cadres used thugs to beat up villagers who were holding a sit-in outside the village committee office. If such violence can occur in broad daylight, under the eyes of the “People’s Government,” then what cannot happen in China?

I am no professional photographer, not even an amateur one. But I am a Chinese person with a conscience. I just instinctively took these photos with my mobile phone in the hope that they could one day help those who are unaware to understand what kind of government they are facing. I am sending these photos to you not to win a prize, but in the hope that I can provide a way for more people to learn the truth.

Beaten to Death for Petitioning. Chang’an Township, Dongguan, Guangdong Province, March 2011. Photo by China Labour Bulletin.

Photographer’s Note: This protest banner was written by the son of an 86-year-old man, Li Genji, who was beaten by local police on February 22, 2010. At the time of the beating, Li was attempting to approach a Party official with a petition regarding a land dispute with his neighbor, who was being backed by corrupt local officials. Li died 27 days later from a brain injury.