Chinese security personnel and hired thugs attacked and beat a group of peasant petitioners in Fuzhou, capital of China’s southeastern province of Fujian, on Monday, witnesses said.
About 300 peasants from Gulou, Jingan, and other districts of Fuzhou had gathered outside the Provincial Office of Letters and Visits to voice complaints about forced relocations and land-grabs, but were violently dispersed, the witnesses said.
“More than 10 villagers have been beaten up. Two of them fell on the ground,” said Lin Xuguang, a peasant from Liuqiao village in Jingan district.
Lin said that his mother had fallen ill after their home was forcibly demolished. Now homeless, she has petitioned several times in Beijing with no results, he said.
His mother then joined the other petitioners Monday morning in front of the provincial government offices, he said.
“That was about 8:30 in the morning,” said Li Kuichun, a peasant from Xinyi village.
“The Liuqiao villagers had just unfurled their banners when a group of gangsters led by their village chief rushed at them. The attackers targeted old people in their 60s and 70s, knocking an old woman named Hu Meizhu to the ground.”
“She lost consciousness right away,” he said.
‘Sold to developers’
Li’s account is supported by photos and video clips showing medical staff with an ambulance taking away an old woman who had been lying on the ground.
“Some young people were taken into the compound of the Letters and Visits Office,” Li continued. “Two of them were severely beaten.”
Another villager, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that authorities had dispatched several dozen police officers and security guards to the scene.
“When fighting broke out, I tried to grab our banners back. The chief of the security guards punched me with his fist,” the man said.
Another petitioner, Lin Jianxin, said that eight of the villagers had previously gone to Beijing to petition, but had been returned and beaten by local police.
“Eight of them were detained after getting back from Beijing,” he said. “They have been kept for four days until now. We request their release.”
Petitioning for redress
Thousands of petitioners go to Beijing each year to seek redress for complaints against their local governments.
They are frequently held in “black jails,” which stand outside the criminal justice system, and are escorted back to their hometowns by local governments, which run representative offices in the capital for the purpose.
Li Kuichun said, “Four years ago, the authorities took our land away and sold it to developers. But so far there has been no construction on that land at all.”
“The government just gave us some token money with which we cannot buy any homes.”
“Where can we live now?” Li asked.
Petitioning authorities for redress has a long history in China.
The current system, set up five decades ago to serve as a bridge between the ruling Communist Party and the people, seldom resolves problems, instead sparking detentions, beatings, and harassment of those who dare to complain, according to petitioners and social activists.
The contemporary “letters and visits” system was formally established in 1951 and reinstated during the 1980s following the large number of appeals against summary verdicts handed down during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
China says it receives between 3 million and 4 million complaints in the form of “letters and visits” annually, with the number having peaked at 12.72 million in 2003.