Loyal to the Group of Seventeen

by Henry Farrell on March 7, 2009

This “Financial Times story”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7d13197e-09bc-11de-add8-0000779fd2ac.html on how petitioners to the Chinese government are treated is extraordinary.

Those gathered there are from the country’s downtrodden, people with grievances against the government who have made their way to the capital to petition China’s modern-day mandarins. When the crowd spots a foreign journalist, many rush forward waving their petition documents and shouting their grievances: “My daughter was murdered and the police did nothing,” says Yan Zizhan, a petitioner from Henan province. “I was beaten up by officials from the family planning department because I wouldn’t have sex with one of them,” says Liu Zhongwei, from Shandong province.

… in the absence of democracy or an independent legal system, the Communist party relies on a 3,000-year-old pressure release valve known as the “petitioning system” to deal with dissatisfaction among the masses. … There is no substantial difference between today’s petitioning system and the system in place 1,000 years ago,” according to Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing-based lawyer and human rights activist who, like many in China today, say the petitioning system is broken and needs to be abolished. “The three essential elements – the emperor, the officials and the injured citizens – have the same relationship. The emperor wants to resolve a portion of the people’s grievances so as to maintain the stability of his regime but the officials have their own interests to think about.”

… Visitors to this office soon notice the heavy-set men in civilian clothes watching the crowds of disgruntled petitioners. Known as jiefangren, or petition interceptors, they are government officials, police officers or sometimes just hired thugs sent by regional and provincial governments to repatriate petitioners before they cause a fuss in the capital. … Over months of interviews, the Financial Times heard numerous accounts and witnessed several examples of officials from the Offices of Letters and Calls or Beijing police working in collusion with interceptors to help detain and abduct petitioners. When interceptors identify people from their region outside the petition office, they approach them and try to get them to return home quietly, ostensibly so their grievances can be “resolved” locally.

ome petitioners are promised quick fixes to their problems; others go willingly in the hope of a free trip home or a place to stay while in Beijing. Those who refuse to accompany these men are usually taken by force. Often they are taken to detention centres operating like private prisons and known as “black jails”. Mr Xu says: “Black jails are places used by provincial governments to illegally imprison petitioners; we call them black jails because, first, they are just like prisons – established by the government to restrict people’s freedom – and, second, they are ‘black’ because they have no basis in any laws or regulations and are totally illegal.” Such facilities exist all over China but especially in Beijing, where they are often no more than a few rooms in a hostel or an unused warehouse. Once detained, petitioners can be subjected to “thought reform” and “re-education” techniques that range from cajoling and threats to extortion, beatings and outright torture.

It’s a quite incredible article; read it.