Pre-Olympic Petitioners Put Pressure on Local Officials

By Qiao Long, Radio Free Asia
June 19, 2008 Updated: June 19, 2008

With China tightening control over petitioners as the Beijing Olympics approach, about 100 villagers protested at Tianfu Square in front of Chengdu City Council in the earthquake-hit Sichuan Province on June 16.

Just one and half month before the start of Beijing Olympics, petitioners still continue to appeal in many areas across China, including Chengdu and Shanghai, where many petitioners pour into the streets in every week. Majority of them are victims of forced eviction or land embezzlement, demanding proper compensation from the authorities. The petitioning activity at Tianfu Square on Monday had about 100 farmers from the neighboring suburban areas turn out. The police were at the scene monitoring and guarding the activity.

An eye witness told Radio Free Asia, “This morning at about 10 p.m., many people gathered at Tianfu Square in front of Chengdu City Council, holding banners and making demands for livelihood and justice.”

According to the witness, 80 to 100 people had come out.

Radio Free Asia also contacted Chengdu City Police Department to confirm the situation.

When asked how many people have showed up in Tianfu Square to make an appeal, the police officer responded, “I don't know. I don't know much about it.”

A local resident said, “Nowadays the government is just so stealthy (dark), like what spies used to be. For instance, if you do something, they would drive a car, ride an electric bicycle or a motorcycle, and follow you. They check to see where you are going and keep following you. Yet, they don't arrest you. They have caused panic among residents [of Chengdu City].”

According to sources, various offices in China are on high alert as the upcoming Beijing Olympics approach, fearing for unpredictable instances to break out. Many authorities have been in high distress due to pressure from higher up. A Chinese official said, “It has already started. We are all tensed up. I estimated that a few of us will go crazy even before August arrives. The requirements have been especially high. Some supervisors have gone nuts, and they pushed their subordinates to go nuts. They don't go easy on anything.”

According to a recent media report, Beijing has requested all local departments to ensure suppression of group petitioning and gang fights. Consequently, local governments nationwide have made forced eviction petitioners as their main target for monitoring. On Monday, authorities in Shanghai sent officials to make door-to-door visits to forced eviction petitioners, making special effort to videotape them and warning them to not go to Beijing to appeal during the Olympics period, and telling them that those who disobey will suffer the consequence.

Ms. Shen a forced eviction victim of Putuo District in Shanghai, said, “They have come today. They did not know that I was home. I didn't want them to take my picture.”

When asked why they wanted to take her picture, Ms. Shen responded, “They meant to tell me to not to go to Beijing.”

“Taking the picture is their way of accomplishing their jobs, their way of notifying us. 'I have fulfilled my duty of notifying you.'”

Ms. Shen said her family of three received 210,000 yuan (approximately US$30,000) in compensation for their forced eviction, hardly enough to buy a house in Shanghai. She has gone to Beijing about a dozen times to petition, including once during the period when Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress were held in March, for which she was detained by police after returning to Shanghai.

Last year during the period of the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, she was put under house arrest. Four people took turns monitoring her in the residential area in an effort to prevent her from leaving her home.