Chinese Veterans Stage Week-Long Protest to Demand Better Treatment
It started off as a local protest in a Chinese city, in response to a military veteran who was beaten by thugs when he petitioned the local government for adequate veteran benefits. Now, a week later, thousands of veterans from other areas have joined in. Chinese authorities across multiple provinces are trying to silence them—and their plight.
On June 19, hundreds of veterans protested in front of the Zhenjiang City government building in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province, demanding that the mayor address their financial difficulties, according to Weiquan Net, a Chinese human rights blog. One of the protesting veterans, Wang Yihong, was beaten by a group of unidentified young men.
These young men turned out to be people with ties to local gangs, according to a June 21 report by Radio Free Asia (RFA). Veterans suspect that the gang members were hired by local officials, as authorities often resort to this tactic to squash dissent.
The incident prompted veterans from other areas to travel to Zhenjiang to show their support. In response, Zhenjiang authorities sent out hundreds of armed police and SWAT police to disperse the veterans.
In recent years, more and more veterans have staged protests for what they believe to be the Chinese regime’s failure to look after them. Some were not able to receive their retirement pensions or obtain assistance in finding new job opportunities. The Chinese regime attempted to address their problems by creating a new Ministry of Veterans Affairs in March, according to Reuters. But problems persist and protests have continued unabated.
By June 22, about 1,000 veterans from several provinces, including Shandong in the east, Hunan in the south, and Hubei from central China, arrived at the Zhenjiang government building and nearby areas. Because they could not afford lodging, some veterans were seen sleeping on the streets or under the trees. Voice of America (VOA) reported that some local residents expressed their sympathy by offering them food and water.
At about 3 a.m. on June 23, Chinese authorities began to disperse the roughly 2,000 veterans who gathered at the government building.
“At about 3:40 a.m., there were suddenly about 10,000 police officers. Many of us veterans were taking a rest at the nearby trees. There wasn’t much light. They surrounded us, and many of us were beaten,” said Mr. Yang, one of the protesting veterans from northwestern China’s Shaanxi Province, during an interview with New York-based broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD).
According to Yang, the police officers wielded shields and batons. Many veterans were injured. After the beatings, police brought all the veterans to a dozen nearby schools and held them there. Local authorities blocked cellphone signals so the veterans could not transmit information to the outside world.
The violent suppression did not stop other veterans from continuing to arrive in Zhenjiang. On the afternoon of June 23, more veterans arrived from Hunan, Shandong, Sichuan, and Anhui provinces.
RFA reported on June 24 that two divisions of the Chinese military, with armored vehicles and tanks, arrived at undisclosed locations near Zhenjiang, based on a video RFA obtained—though it could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.
A protesting veteran who identified himself as Mr. Liu, speaking to RFA, described police being stationed outside the schools where veterans were being held. He said 15 veterans, after being beaten, became comatose and were sent to the Zhejiang First People’s Hospital, which was guarded by military police.
Mr. Liu added that a group of veterans from the southwestern city of Chongqing that was traveling to Zhenjiang was stopped on the highway before they reached their destination.
Police throughout the country tried to stop more veterans from convening in Zhenjiang. On June 25, VOA reported that veterans were stopped at the Zhengzhou Railway Station in Sichuan. They were subsequently escorted to motels by the police. Additionally, “fake” veterans were spotted among the protesting crowd, trying to collect information. Veterans suspect the imposters were sent by local authorities.
Veterans have been protesting for better treatment for over 15 years, according to Wu Shiming, a democracy activist from Jiangsu, in an interview with NTD.
“They are [protesting] because they want to survive. They come from all over China. And their living conditions are very poor. Some rural veterans receive 75 yuan ($11.48) [in government subsidies] every month,” said Wu.
After years of protesting, Wu said veterans realized that petitioning the government individually has not led to their demands being heard. Now, veterans say they must coordinate and work together, according to Wu, if they want the authorities to provide them with better care.
On June 5, RFA reported that hundreds of veterans gathered in Luohe City in central China’s Henan Province to demand the release of a local veteran and another veteran’s wife. They were arrested in May when they traveled to Beijing to seek redress from the central authorities. The man and the woman were released weeks later.