A proposed new regulation issued by the Chinese Communist Party appears set to close off one of the last pressure valves for desperate Chinese to protest against state abuse.
“Petitioning” is an ancient Chinese practice that has been adopted and modified by the communist authorities: it means that people with grievances against abusive officials can appeal to higher-level authorities. Thousands of petitioners stream to Beijing throughout the year in an attempt to seek redress.
Now, a new proposal would ban petitions that try to “leapfrog” local authorities, and also ban any petition about a case that is also in the courts.
The restrictions are being seen as a harsh pushback against a vulnerable and desperate population in China.
“The new regulation in fact deprives the last hope of people seeking justice,” said Xu Shaolin, an independent commentator in Beijing.
“What should petitioners do when local governments don’t take care of their petitions? What should they do when courts refuse to file their cases? Where can they gain redress for their grievances?” Xu asked on Sina Weibo.
Banning the Leapfrog
“Leapfrog” petitions are widely used by Chinese who have suffered some injustice by corrupt cadres in their village. They go to the State Bureau of Letters and Calls in Beijing with their complaint.
The regulation would ban this, to “solve problems at local places, avoiding conflicts with going to higher levels, and maintaining social order.”
But people bypass local government for a reason, said Li Xiangyang, a lawyer in China, in an interview with the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television.
“Every petitioner that goes to Beijing to petition didn’t bypass the local government at the beginning,” Li said. “They’ve been petitioning for years in their local county or province, but failed.”
The entire system of petitioning is a social buffer that holds off outright conflict between the people and the state, even though it doesn’t solve any of the problems it is meant to.
Proper rule of law, an independent judiciary, and a clean government would better address the roots of discontent, experts say.
“Return these problem-solving functions to the judiciary … and eventually abolish the petition system. That is the way out,” said Yu Jianrong, director of the Chinese Social Issue Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
It is widely held, however, that as long as the Communist Party insists on monopolizing political power, truly independent judicial organs will be impossible.
Stopping at Court
Petitioning is in some cases used as a way of going around the courts, which the new regulation also seeks to ban.
“There are so many lawsuits that turned into petitions because the judiciary is not just,” said Li Xiangyang, a lawyer in China. “Otherwise people wouldn’t petition.”
Blocking the option of petitioning will simply exacerbate tensions, said Huang Qi, the co-founder of the Tianwang Human Rights Center.
“The petition system in mainland China is built to give people some hope,” he said to Radio Free Asia. “People start from having hope, and then are disappointed, and finally get desperate.”
He added: “If Beijing blocks all the means for petitioners to express their grievances, I think people are likely to take even more extreme methods. … At that point, the whole Chinese society is the victim.”