August 21, 2008
Two Women Sentenced to ‘Re-education’ in China
By ANDREW JACOBS
BEIJING — Two elderly Chinese women have been sentenced to a year of “re-education through labor” after they repeatedly sought a permit to demonstrate in one of the official Olympic protest areas, according to family members and human rights advocates.
The women, Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, had made five visits to the police this month in an effort to get permission to protest what they contended was inadequate compensation for the demolition of their homes in Beijing.
During their final visit on Monday, public security officials informed them that they had been given administrative sentences for “disturbing the public order,” according to Li Xuehui, Ms. Wu’s son.
Mr. Li said his mother and Ms. Wang, who used to be neighbors before their homes were demolished to make way for a redevelopment project, were allowed to return home but were told they could be sent to a detention center at any moment. “Can you imagine two old ladies in their 70s being re-educated through labor?” he asked. He said Ms. Wang was nearly blind.
A man who answered the phone at the Public Security Bureau declined to give out information about the case.
At least a half dozen people have been detained by the authorities after they responded to a government announcement late last month designating venues in three city parks as “protest zones” during the Olympics. So far, no demonstrations have taken place.
According to Xinhua, the state news agency, 77 people submitted protest applications, none of which were approved. Xinhua, quoting a public security spokesperson, said that apart from those detained all but three applicants had dropped their requests after their complaints were “properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations.” The remaining three applications were rejected for incomplete information or for violating Chinese law.
The authorities, however, have refused to explain what happened to applicants who disappeared after they submitted their paperwork. Among these, Gao Chuancai, a farmer from northeast China who was hoping to publicize government corruption, was forcibly escorted back to his hometown last week and remains in custody.
Relatives of another person who was detained, Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident who was also seeking to protest the demolition of her home, were told she would be kept at a detention center for a month. Two rights advocates from southern China have not been heard from since they were seized last week at the Public Security Bureau’s protest application office in Beijing.
Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang were well known to the authorities for their persistent campaign for greater compensation for the demolition of their homes. Mr. Li said his family had given up their home in 2001 with the expectation that they would get a new one in the development that replaced it. Instead, he said, the family has been forced to live in a ramshackle apartment on the capital’s outskirts.
“I feel very sad and angry because we’re only asking for the basic right of living and it’s been six years, but nobody will do anything to help them,” Mr. Li said.
He said that he and Ms. Wang’s daughter tried to apply for their own protest permit on Tuesday but that the police would not even give them the necessary forms.
The two elderly women were given administrative sentences to re-education through labor, known as laojiao, which seeks to reform political and religious dissenters and those charged with minor crimes like prostitution and petty theft. Government officials say that 290,000 people are detained in re-education centers for terms ranging from one to three years, although detentions can be extended for those whose rehabilitation is deemed inadequate.
Human rights advocates have long criticized the system because punishment is handed down by officials without trials or means of appeal. Last year, the government briefly grappled with revamping the system but backed off in the face of opposition from public security officials.
Although it is unlikely that women as old as Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang would be forced into hard labor, many of those sentenced to laojiao often toil in agricultural or factory work and are forced to confess their transgressions.
Tang Xuemei contributed research.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company