China: Chinese Court Upholds Jail Term of Petitioner Amid Nationwide Crackdown on Complaints
February 22, 2018, 4:14 am

A court in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi on Wednesday upheld a four-and-a-half-year jail term to a woman who lodged an official complaint in Beijing over compensation for a workplace injury, amid a nationwide crackdown on the country’s petitioners.

Jiang Yarong was found guilty by the court of first instance in Shaanxi’s Xianyang city of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after she repeatedly took complaints to Beijing, and immediately lodged an appeal.

On Wednesday, the Xianyang Intermediate People’s Court upheld Jiang’s guilty verdict and the original jail term, citing her “repeated illegal petitioning in Beijing.”

The court also accused her of extorting money from an “inteceptor,” an official charged with escorting petitioners, by force if necessary, back to their hometowns.

Jiang’s brother Jiang Jiezhong said her jail term was far too harsh, because she was only engaged in normal complaints procedures.

“Petitioning is very tough, and she had already been locked up once after she got back [from Beijing],” he said. “She has been locked up on and off for the past 10 years.”

‘She has nothing left’

He said Jiang is utterly poverty-stricken.

“She has nothing left, and lives in great hardship, and she relies on our parents for food and shelter; she has been divorced for the past 10 years, and all because of this workplace injury,” he said.

“They put pressure on my brother-in-law, saying they would fire him the next time she lodged a complaint … he told her not to do it, and she said she was going to anyway, and they had a fight,” Jiang Jiezhong said.

“They never made up again after that fight, and so they divorced,” he said.

Jiang said he plans to visit local officials and ask for his sister’s release. He said defense lawyers hired by the family had dropped the case under intense pressure from the authorities.

“The family wasn’t even informed of the appeal hearing, and we have never received the judgment,” he said. “They never informed us, and they wouldn’t let us visit her, and they held the hearing behind closed doors.”

Nationwide crackdown

Jiang’s appeal decision comes as the ruling Chinese Communist Party launches a nationwide crackdown on would-be petitioners ahead of its annual parliamentary sessions in early March.

“Right now, very few people are posting anything in our WeChat groups; the crackdown is too severe,” Wuxi-based petitioner Ding Hongfen told RFA on Wednesday.

“They have all been persecuted to the point where they are terrified. Very few people are in a position to speak out, and those who used to post a lot don’t dare do it now,” she said.

She said fellow petitioner Ding Lingjie, who had previously been quite outspoken, is currently in detention.

Kunshan petitioner Sun Yunyue is now incommunicado after being held under a 15-day administrative sentence, and had previously posted to say she wouldn’t be released until after the National People’s Congress (NPC) sessions ended in March.

Repeated calls to her residential compound office and to Sun’s cell phone rang unanswered on Wednesday.

And in the central province of Hubei, laid-off worker-turned-rights activist Wu Jiawen said he is currently under surveillance at his home, after taking part in a protest at the U.S. embassy in Beijing last year.

“Basically, petitioners are being treated like terrorists now,” Wu told RFA. “Especially petitioners like me, who have been to the U.S. embassy. I can’t even step outside my own home.”

“I have been under house arrest this whole time, and they have put several surveillance cameras outside my door,” he said. “The police and stability maintenance guys have even rented the apartment next to mine. I call that detention by violence.”

Dozens detained

Last week, authorities in Beijing detained dozens of petitioners who traveled to Beijing to wish President Xi Jinping a Happy New Year of the Dog.

Henan petitioner Hu Daliao said large numbers of petitioners have been converging on the streets around the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s headquarters in Zhongnanhai, but are being detained before they get that far.

“Most of the petitioners have been locked up, or they are under house arrest at home, because as soon as Chinese New Year is over, then it’ll be the parliamentary sessions,” she said.

“I am getting calls from friends around the country saying that it has been much harder for them to get to Beijing since the 19th party congress last year,” she said. “They are now unable to get here from their hometowns, and a lot of them are being watched 24 hours a day.”

Calls to a number of petitioners currently believed to be in Beijing rang unanswered in recent days.

“A lot of people went to Beijing to wish our leaders a Happy New Year and to tell them about their grievances at the same time,” Shandong petitioner Lu Qiumei told RFA. “But they were all detained and brought back again.”