Laid-Off Laborers in Guizhou Province Attempted Group Suicide

By Feng Riyao, Radio Free Asia
July 5, 2008 Updated: July 5, 2008

More than 20 laid-off workers of a state-owned enterprise in Guiyang City (the provincial capital of Guizhou, located in southwestern China) attempted suicide on Saturday, June 27, by swallowing agricultural pesticide when they were detained in a local police station. Seven persons were still hospitalized with two in critical condition.

The workers were arrested and detained by the police because of their demonstration at the Guiyang City government earlier in the day, protesting that the authorities had failed to deliver on promised welfare benefits. Attempted suicide survivors said they were desperate after years of repetitive but failed appeals to the higher government. Some indicated that they planned to take legal action.

Coming from Kaiyang County, laid-off workers rallied at the Guiyang City government last Saturday to protest against the provincial officers who were attending a national tobacco industry meeting at city hall. They pointed out that the Kaiyang County government expropriated their farmland for erecting a state-operated cigarette factory 16 years ago, and at that time the county government guaranteed long-term employment for affected farmers. The cigarette factory went bankrupt six years ago, and the county government has not provided them indemnification or job rearrangements, which they were entitled to as employees of a state-owned enterprise.

One of the workers who attempted suicide, Mr. Yang, who was still hospitalized, pointed out in a telephone interview that the protesters found no alternative but to commit suicide, because they were arrested by a large group of policemen outside city hall. He said, “The police took us to the police station and told us that we would be sent back to where we came from. We were so desperate and decided to commit suicide by swallowing pesticide. The police then sent us to the hospital. At one time, there were seven in critical condition. After emergency treatment, there are still two in serious condition. I am not sure whether they will make it.”

Yang also said the ward was guarded by the police, and every phone call he made was tapped. During the phone interview, Yang's mobile phone suddenly stopped working. The reporter dialed Yang's mobile phone again but could not re-establish the connection.

Later, the reporter contacted another laid-off worker of the cigarette factory, Mr. Tian, who did not participate in the demonstration. According to Tian, when the workers were rushed to the Kaiyang County Medical College Hospital for emergency treatment, more than 100 policemen and military police were dispatched to form a picket line outside the hospital. He added that photographing and videotaping at the scene was forbidden, and information of the attempted suicide was completely suppressed. Tian said, “We have petitioned many times, but the petitions have never been reported by media. It is certain that the authorities consider the protesters' attempted suicide today a disgrace. Anything that would give a negative impression of the local authorities would certainly be blocked.”

Tian said he was preparing to take legal action and would sue the county government for breach of contract.