At least two petitioners are thought to have died as Beijing authorities intensify their campaign to “clean up” the capital for the Olympics, with busloads of people taken away each evening.
Petitioners contacted by telephone told The Epoch Times that on the evening of July 13, five busloads of people were seized and taken away, with another busload taken the following evening.
“Every evening they are seizing people,” Mr Zhao Jianping, who has been appealing in Beijing for more than four years, told The Epoch Times by phone. “The people living under bridges are becoming fewer and fewer.”
Beijing appellant Tang Xuiyun told of a similar situation. “These past two days have been very dangerous for us,” he said. “If you hand in a letter of appeal you’re immediately seized.
“Jilin Province petitioner Xingrong (sic) was yesterday beaten lifeless, then dragged away, right now we have no idea whether [he or she] is dead or alive. Right now everyone is very vulnerable, and we don’t dare to step outside.”
Thousands of people, mostly from rural districts, travel to Beijing each year to air their grievances at government “appeals offices”, mostly over land grabs by corrupt local officials.
They are routinely arrested and sent back to their home provinces, but Beijing authorities are now ramping up a campaign that started in September last year, with the central government doing all it can to present a harmonious China to the world during next month’s Olympic games.
The mass arrests are coupled with measures to prevent petitioners from reaching the capital. Those wanting to enter Beijing now must apply for a permit, a process which rules out the many who have been blacklisted. All vehicles entering and leaving the capital undergo a ‘safety check’, with passengers asked to show their identification. Leaflets have been distributed telling residents to report any foreigners or suspicious people to the police.
Daily commuters on buses and trains are randomly asked to show their ID, with government officials stressing both “strictness” and “convenience” for security forces while inspecting people, according to state media.
Additionally, landlords renting out their basements were ordered in June to clear out existing tenants by July 1, according to Hong Kong’s Mingpao newspaper, with estimates that this forced more than 100,000 non-Beijing residents to return to their home provinces. Small hotels and guesthouses have been closed, surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city, and large numbers of police wearing red armbands have started patrolling the streets.
“They are arresting people everywhere, and hotels don’t allow us to stay there for the night, our identities are all blacklisted,” Mr Zhao said. “The public safety authorities are more restrained in the daytime, but come evening, every appellant they discover is thrown into a vehicle and taken away.”
Mr Zhao says a petitioner from his home village told him he saw a girl murdered during the initial roundup on July 13, as he was fleeing from police. “Just as my fellow villager was running away, he saw a Hunan petitioner being stabbed on the road. She was probably a little over 30 years old. Probably thugs from her local district silencing her for good, but who knows what the real reason is.”
Petitioner Mr Li Jiancheng also says he saw someone beaten to death that night, in Beijing’s Gaofa neighbourhood. He said it took place around 11pm, and the corpse was taken away around 2am. The following day, the whole area was sealed off by police.
In another case, a woman in her forties took her own life by leaping off a bridge. She had submitted an appeal letter to the Beijing appeals office, and ran as police followed her out of the building.
“They were trying to stop her from appealing and seize her,” said petitioner Tang Xiuyun. “She ran from them, she saw a bridge and jumped from it, she didn’t want to live anymore, and fell to her death. There were hundreds of people watching, the police came and sealed the whole area off, didn’t allow people to come and look. Some people’s cameras were confiscated, and enquiries about her identity were unsuccessful.”
Mr Zhao says he also witnessed the event. “I came out of the appeals office and saw a lot of people crowding around. I heard she had jumped to her death from a bridge, and the police had dragged her body away. She was from Jiamusi, in Heilongjiang Province, we don’t know what her name was. She must have totally lost hope.”
Outside of the law
Mark Allison, East Asia Researcher for Amnesty International, says petitioners are often detained by local authorities in undocumented detention centres on the outskirts of Beijing, with reports emerging over the last year.
“They seem to be converted hotels and that kind of thing, and they seem to be completely outside the Chinese criminal justice system, legal system, and there are reports of people being beaten in those centres before being sent back to their home provinces.”
Mr Allison says the issue highlights the problem of detention without trial in China, with petitioners sentenced to re-education through labour for up to four years without legal justification.
“Given that the authorities have actually made promises to improve human rights in the run-up to the Olympics, it’s ironic that a system like that has actually been extended. What does that say for the legacy of the Olympics for human rights in China?”
Mr Zhao’s story is typical of the petitioners who travel to Beijing. He says he owned a number of properties before local officials seized them, and sold each square metre to developers for RMB10,000 ($1,470). “I’ve already appealed for four or five years, he said. “I’ve lost all hope in this society, there’s nowhere I can go for justice.
“My property was seized, I went to appeal, the provincial authorities shut down my legal case. I’ve not received a cent. I’ve come to Beijing countless times, and it’s just useless, it’s so hard for people to appeal to the authorities. We’re arrested and taken back home, where we’re jailed, beaten and detained. I haven’t dared to return home for four years. I’ve been living away for years now, relying on part-time work to live.”
Li Jiancheng, who has been appealing for more than ten years, said he no longer holds any hope in the legal appeal process. “Today [a friend’s] mobile received a message, reminding city people to bring their ID when they leave their houses, in case of a random check,” he said. “They are taking appellants as the number one public threat, I think any time now I could be arrested.”