05/11/2011, 00.00
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Three years after Sichuan earthquake, no justice for dead schoolchildren yet

Thousands of schoolchildren died on 12 May 2008 under the rubble of their shoddily built schools. Friends of artist Ai Weiwei post a video online in which parents complain about threats and beatings by police against those who seek the truth. Prime Minister Wen celebrates the success of reconstruction.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The third anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Sichuan falls tomorrow, 12 May. More than 87,000 people died in the event, whilst hundreds of thousands found themselves homeless. Friends of artist Ai Weiwei, detained without charges by police since 3 April, posted a video on Youtube in which the parents of some of the 5,300 dead schoolchildren speak out. Meanwhile, Beijing is presenting a false image of efficient reconstruction.

In the video, which Ai prepared before his arrest, parents talk about the threats, beatings and arrests they have had to endure for trying to find who was responsible for the collapse of shoddily built tofu-like schools that killed at least 5,300 of their children (the actual figure is unknown). In some cases, buildings around the schools did not fall.

In the view of the wave of national grief, the central authorities promised a quick probe, but no one has yet to be blamed for the disaster and the results of the investigation have not been released.

Many parents still want the truth. Ai Weiwei has tried to help them. On the second anniversary of the quake, he posted the names of all the dead children on his Twitter account, which has more than 30,000 subscribers. His arrest caused international protests, but Beijing insists he was arrested for undisclosed “economic crimes”.

In the video, Liu Yuting, Beichuan County, says, “When they rushed over to the school, none of the houses in the area had collapsed, including older houses that were built back in the 1960s”.

Another father who was among the many parents calling for an investigation into allegations of official corruption described how he was beaten whilst in police detention as he tried to present a petition over the death of his daughter. "There was one policeman who told me when we went to petition at the provincial government that he would kill me if he wasn't a police officer."

Parents of thousands of schoolchildren who died during the devastating quake say they were harassed by the authorities ahead of the three-year anniversary.

Lawyers have been warned off accepting cases linked to Sichuan child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice (which in China has to be renewed by the Communist Party-controlled bar association).

Sichuan authorities have already jailed Huang Qi, who defended the rights of parents, as well as Tan Zuoren after he carried out an independent investigation into the children’s deaths and published it online. “Few parents dare to speak out nowadays,” Liu said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited the area (pictured). He said that reconstruction targets were successfully met with an injection of more than 1.02 trillion yuan (US$ 150 million)

According to the authorities, reconstruction is 95 per cent complete. More than 2.1 million homes had been rebuilt in the quake zone and thousands of new schools and hospitals were ready to be used.

Experts observe however that many survivors are still living in makeshift shelters and that the local economy has not yet recovered.

Sichuan deputy governor Wei Hong has in fact promised to invest an additional 3 billion yuan over the next five years to rebuild the economies of 1,200 villages.

Boosting the local economy is important but so are “local people's lives,” political analyst Professor Hu Xingdou told the South China Morning Post. Their “broken hearts” must be consoled as well. That includes the parents of dead schoolchildren as well as the homeless and the jobless.

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