In his keynote address Prime Minister Wen Jiabao reiterated his government’s commitment to social stability, which includes in his words the active prevention of “all types of mass incidents”. Hence angry citizens are threatened and arrested by police as they engage them in street battles around the country.
In the same speech Wen stressed the need to ensure people’s welfare and promote social harmony and stability. But a mainland-based human rights group, the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (CRLW), has reported that petitioners from around the country have been followed, detained, or sent back home by police as they tried to make their way to the capital.
For instance, Tian Xue from Shenyang (Liaoning) told CRLW that police were trying to catch would-be protesters at the railway station and on trains. Of the 20 people in her group, only three made it to Beijing.
For its part Radio Free Asia has reported cases in which people have been forced to attend “law study groups” in Jiangsu, in what is really forced detention lasting several days.
Feng Shouling from Pei Country (Jiangsu) said that she was held in police custody for two days last month, threatened with charges of treason because she had talked to foreign media about her re-education experience.
Another petitioner, surnamed Xu and also from Pei County, was held for ten days in a “law study group”; “to stop me from petitioning,” he said.
For Beijing lawyer Teng Biao, these study groups are nothing but extrajudicial “makeshift jails”.
“Some petitioners have told me that the living conditions at the study groups are extremely poor. They cannot move freely or make calls to the outside. Some are even tortured,” Teng said.
In China important political events like the annual session of the National People’s Congress provide ordinary citizens with an opportunity to petition the authorities hoping that they might get some redress since no other means is open to them to defend their rights.
But for some years now the Chinese government has tried to choke off this channel as well.
In September 2007 for example Beijing authorities tore down houses in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city where thousands of petitioners were staying waiting to present their petitions to the central government.
A cycle of mass protests and crackdowns has now developed in reaction to the situation.
In the village of Liulan in Guiping (Guangxi), about a thousand police officers faced off thousands of villagers angered by the low compensation offered by the state-owned China Resources Cement Company for expropriated farmland.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD) reported that police hunted down petitioners trying to get to Beijing for the opening of the National People’s Congress, taking into custody about 300 people.
More clashes have also taken place as a result of the melamine-tainted milk.
Police today prevented Zhao Lianhai and other parents of children sickened or killed by the tainted baby formula from going to Shijiazhuang (Hebei) to appear before a court to demand compensation from Sanlu, the dairy company that manufactured the contaminated product (pictured, parents’ protest).
In the meantime protests have hit the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The CHRD reports that more than 2,000 people protested in Jiangnan Township in central China's Chongqing municipality last Saturday, accusing local authorities of corruption for paying out inadequate relocation compensation for the land and houses they had to abandon.
More than 30 protesters were arrested and tens were wounded after police charged into the crowd.
Demonstrations have not stopped at roadblocks set up by protesters who are still involved in clashes with police.