05/05/2018, 17.21
CHINA
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Sichuan, house arrest for the families of children who died in the earthquake 10 years ago

Local authorities fear protests and petitions in anticipation of the anniversary. More than 88,000 people, including about 10,000 school-age children, lost their lives in the earthquake of May 12, 2008. The quake razed most of the school buildings. The parents of the victims fight for compensation and promises not kept by Beijing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Rfa) – The authorities of the south-western Sichuan province have ordered house arrest for several families who lost their children in the devastating earthquake of 2008, whose tenth anniversary will be celebrated on May 12th.

More than 88,000 people, including about 10,000 school-age children, lost their lives in the earthquake that devastated the mountain regions of the province. It razed most of the school buildings to the ground. The resulting public outrage exploded in allegations of corruption, linked to the poor standard of constructions, called in a derogatory way "tofu schools". A decade later, the parents of the victims claim that their campaign for compensation and financial assistance was a failure, despite the promises announced by the government in the reconstruction plan. At present, many are even under strict surveillance or under house arrest, as the authorities try to prevent them from filing complaints with the Communist Party in Beijing.

Sang Jun, who lost his son in the collapse of the Fuxin No. 2 elementary school in the town of Mianzhu, one of the worst hit by the earthquake, tells Rfa that he’s monitored 24 hours a day by the police. “The security forces have been checking me for a couple of days - says the parent - This is because I and some of the other victims' families got on a train to Beijing, but we were brought back by Zhengzhou officials, who persuaded us to go back home. All of us activist parents and families of schoolchildren in Mianzhu [who are dead] are now under house arrest and we are not even allowed to leave.” In total, 129 Fuxin No. 2 have died in the earthquake. The death toll is 5.000 among the children of the area around Mianzhu.

Li Yan, the mother of a victim, also reveals that she is confined to the house by the police. “A few days ago, we were summoned to the village government offices. They told us not to give interviews to foreign media - says the woman - We ask for explanations on building materials 'made with tofu' and used by the government in school buildings. Furthermore, the question remains for the maintenance of our other children, which is proving very difficult.” Following the seismic disaster, parents in mourning were allowed to have a second child. In the special dispensation to the rules of "one-child planning", the government had also promised to finance the education of children and other living expenses. The commitment has yet to be maintained.

Tan Zuoren, a Sichuan writer who has been imprisoned for investigating corruption behind school collapses, says he has continued his research since his release from prison in April 2014. Tan, 63, says the authorities have suffocated repeated attempts by victims' relatives to stage protests or petitions; their lawyers have been advised against accepting the cases linked to the compensation of the victims, under threat of losing their license for the practice. “Parents are looking for an answer but they have not received legal assistance, because no lawyer and no court would dare to accept such a case,” says Tan.

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