» 04/29/2009, 00.00
Sichuan earthquake: police threaten and investigate those seeking the truth
"Strict surveillance" has been deployed in one city for anyone who might cause protests. Those who simply want to find out the names of the students who died in the rubble of the schools are also being threatened. Meanwhile, it is feared that more officials may commit suicide, crushed by their responsibility in the affair, and by the order to conceal the truth.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The government of Mianyang, a city in Sichuan devastated by the earthquake on May 12, 2008, in a directive dated April 24 recommends "putting under surveillance" anyone who might "undermine social stability or are identified as trouble-making petitioners." For the anniversary of the disaster, the authorities want to avoid public protests by the families who lost their children in the collapse of the schools, denied any form of justice by Beijing. Meanwhile, new directives seek to prevent the risk of more suicides among officials in the area.
88,000 people died in the earthquake, including thousands of children, who died beneath the collapsed schools. The government says 6,000 students died, but has never provided their names or ages, which are treated as "secret." Other sources say 10,000 students died. The parents claim that the schools collapsed while the surrounding buildings remain standing. Beijing at first promised rapid investigations into those responsible, but recently banned any investigation into the causes of the collapses, officially attributed solely to the seriousness of the earthquake.
The artist Ai Weiwei has begun to assemble information on the students who died on his website. But the site has been censored, and Ai has denounced frequent threats by the police against those who gather such news.
Wang Xiaodong, a volunteer in Chengdu who helps parents there to gather evidence that the Beichai middle school (Mianyang) was built with material of poor quality, says that the police came to take down information about him.
It is a common conviction that victims are in part the consequence of buildings that were poorly constructed because of widespread corruption. After two important officials in the earthquake-stricken area committed suicide in the past 6 months, the authorities are seeking to provide psychological support for Party officials. New measures for psychological support were issued on April 27. A list is also being prepared of those who display "unstable emotional reactions and unusual behaviour," who will be subjected to attentive observation, and will have weekly meetings to discuss their situation.
But Song Shinan, a scholar at the University of Sichuan, tells the South China Morning Post that the real reason for the suicide and depression among the officials is having to face people affected by the earthquake every day, coming to ask for help and justice that the authorities frequently deny them.
He says that Feng Xiang, a Beichuan official who hung himself on April 20, "is a victim who lost his only son [who died in the collapse of the school] and wanted to learn the truth, as all other parents do. Instead, as the deputy director of the local propaganda department, he was ordered to conceal the truth."
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