China accused over harassment and jailing of earthquake victims

By agency reporter
May 8, 2009

The Chinese authorities intimidated and unlawfully detained parents and relatives of children who died in the devastating Sichuan earthquake. They also harassed activists and lawyers who tried to assist. The claims are made in a new Amnesty International report, released ahead of the first anniversary of the disaster, on 12 May 2009.

Amnesty International's report, 'Justice Denied: Harassment of Sichuan earthquake survivors and activists', documents instances where some parents and relatives were detained for up to 21 days for trying to seek answers from officials about why their children died.

Some have been detained repeatedly and the youngest detainee was only eight years old, the report adds.

In June 2008, police detained Sichuan-based human rights activist Huang Qi on suspicion of 'unlawfully holding documents classified as highly secret'. The reason for his detention was unclear, but Amnesty International says it appeared to be connected to his work assisting the families of five primary school pupils who died when their school buildings collapsed in the earthquake. The families were seeking compensation from local officials because they believed corruption led to poor construction standards.

Huang Qi was held incommunicado for over 100 days before his first meeting with a lawyer in September 2008. In October, he refused the authorities' offer to release him on condition he gave up human rights work. On 2 February, the court failed to make a public announcement of his trial three days before it took place, as instructed in the Criminal Procedure Law, but gave only one day's notice to his family and lawyers. Later the same day, after objections by his lawyers, the court decided to postpone his trial. Huang Qi remains in detention without trial or access to his family.

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International's UK Campaigns Director, commented: "Many of these parents' lives were devastated when they lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake. It's completely understandable that they would want to know why their children died and who was responsible."

He continued: "For the Chinese authorities to react by locking up grieving parents, whose only crime was to demand some answers, is truly beyond belief. The government of China must stop harassing earthquake survivors and allow lawyers and civil society to hold those responsible to account."

Amnesty International's report found that in some cases the authorities had prevented parents and relatives from complaining to higher officials about the quality of the buildings which collapsed in the earthquake. Many were subjected to arbitrary detention or unlawful surveillance to prevent them from pursuing legal remedies.

Some activists who offered assistance and some representatives of parents are facing politically motivated trials for vaguely defined state security and public order maintenance crimes, says the report.

The authorities have also denied grieving parents access to courts to determine who should bear the responsibly for the collapse of the schools and the deaths of their children. In a directive issued by the provincial court in Sichuan, all lower courts are banned from accepting cases deemed sensitive. These include disputes over compensation for personal injuries or damages to property caused by the collapse of buildings and disputes over compensation by insurance companies until further instructions are given by relevant departments.

Amnesty International is now calling on the Chinese authorities to take immediate action to ensure the justice system works for parents and survivors by allowing them unhindered access to independent and impartial tribunals, lawyers and activists who have offered assistance.

'Justice denied: Harassment of Sichuan earthquake survivors and activists' includes interviews with parents whose children died during the earthquake, lawyers, legal experts, scholars and rights activists and English translations of circulars issued by Sichuan Higher People's Court instructing lower courts not to accept earthquake-related cases which are deemed sensitive.

Read the whole report here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file):

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