In China, Would-Be Protesters Pay a Price

Legal advocate Ji Sizun says the Chinese government detained him when he applied for a permit to protest in Bejing and demanded answers to a friend's disappearance. Video by Ariana Eunjung Cha/The Washington Post
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ZHANGZHOU, China -- When Ji Sizun heard that the Chinese government had agreed to create three special zones in Beijing for peaceful public protests during the 2008 Summer Olympics, he celebrated. He said in an interview at the time that he believed the offer was sincere and represented the beginning of a new era for human rights in China.

Ji, 59, a self-taught legal advocate who had spent 10 years fighting against corrupt officials in his home province of Fujian on China's southeastern coast, immediately packed his bags and was one of the first in line in Beijing to file his application to protest.

It is now clear that his hope was misplaced.

In the end, official reports show, China never approved a single protest application -- despite its repeated pledges to improve its human rights record when it won the bid to host the Games. Some would-be applicants were taken away by force by security officials and held in hotels to prevent them from filing the paperwork. Others were scared away by warnings that they could face "difficulties" if they went through with their applications.

Ji has spent the past eight months in various states of arrest and detention. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed, on charges of faking official seals on documents he filed on behalf of his clients. Ji is appealing.

His relatives and human rights groups argue that the entire court case was a farce -- a punishment for Ji's refusal to back down during the Olympics.

"It wasn't fair to arrest him like this. All he did was to help ordinary people get their voices heard. For that they threw some fake accusations at him," said his sister Ji Xiuzhuang, 63.

Only 77 applications were officially filed. Even so, all but three were subsequently withdrawn, the state-run New China News Agency said, after authorities "satisfactorily addressed" petitioners' concerns. Of the rest, two were rejected because the applicants did not provide adequate information, and the last because it violated China's laws on demonstrations.

Since the Games in August, the situation for the Chinese citizens who had tried to apply for the Olympics permits has worsened, and some of the more outspoken applicants, such as Ji, have been harassed or detained.

Two women from Beijing in their late 70s, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, were sentenced to a year of reeducation in a labor camp for protesting their forced eviction from their homes in 2001; the sentence was reduced and later rescinded, but the women said in an interview that they are being closely monitored by local police and that cameras have been installed outside their homes.

Tang Xuecheng, an entrepreneur in his 40s who had gone to Beijing to protest the government's seizure of his mining company, was detained by local officials and sent to a "mental hospital for mental health assessment," according to a public security official in his home town in Chenzhou city in Hunan province. Tang was released several months later.

Zhong Ruihua, 62, and nine others from the industrial city of Liuzhou who tried to petition against property seizures were arrested and have been charged with disturbing the public order. Zhang Qiuping, Zhong Ruihua's youngest daughter, saw her mother for the first time since August on Feb. 23, during her trial.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company