08/20/2009, 00.00
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Devoid of democracy, Beijing urges attention to petitions

In China, those who fail to obtain justice address a "petition" to the government, a legacy of the imperial system. Often local authorities ignore requests and petitioners go to Beijing to consult the central government. Experts: Justice is not achieved with new regulations but with respect for human rights and democracy.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The government says it will provide a prompt response to popular petitions, to avoid the disgruntled flocking to Beijing to present their protests. Experts point out that further regulation will not improve respect for human rights, rather structural change and greater democracy is needed.

Local officials have been ordered to listen to those who present petitions and give them a response within 60 days. Petitions may also be submitted via Internet. Previously there was no time limit and petitioners, faced with unresponsive local authorities, ended up travelling to Beijing to present their case to the central government.  Petitioners in Beijing are in the thousands, a source of constant embarrassment to government, although many people have been intercepted and sent back before their arrival in the capital.

Experts point out that this system is a hangover from the imperial era, when every subject had the right to seek justice from the emperor, if he had been denied by local rulers. But it is still seen by many as the only way to obtain justice in the face of widespread corruption among local authorities and the subordination of the courts to the Communist Party or its leaders.

Beijing officials say they will send legal officials to areas with a high number of petitioners, to review the performance of local authorities.

Xinhua agency comments that it is a measure to eliminate an inefficient system and to ensure faster and more efficient justice. But analysts note that the change is likely to be only formal and we must wait to see how it will be applied in the provinces. They note that August 6 an observation appeared on the website of the Central Government that the step will also help impede protests and maintain the semblance of a peaceful environment for the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, which falls on 1 October and for which imposing celebrations are in program.

Human rights activists have long accused police of illegally arresting those who go to Beijing to petition, of beating them and of holding them indefinitely in "ghost" prisons, the existence of which is officially denied.

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