Chinese petition People's Congress

Issue 

By Eva Cheng

At least four groups of political activists braved arrest in the first week of March to make their voices heard in demand for greater democracy in China.

They are of diverse background, posing a wide range of daring demands by China's standards, but all converged on Beijing when the National People's Congress, the Chinese parliament, was in session.

Demands were to end one-party rule, curb excessive police power and overturn the official condemnation of the democracy movement in 1989. These demands have long been considered as subversive in China, and have cost some of the petitioners many years behind bars.

The most radical demands have come from a group which comprises activists like Xu Wenli and Wei Jingsheng, who led the pro-democracy movement which sprang up in major cities immediately after Deng Xiaoping took power in 1978. They demand to have the official judgment of the Tienanmen uprising in 1989 as "counter-revolutionary" overturned, and call for an end to one-party rule, the stamping out of corruption, strengthening of the rule of law and autonomy for ethnic minorities.

Both Xu and Wei have spent more than 12 years in jail for their involvement in putting forward similar demands in the early '80s. Both have been detained again after their release in the early '90s.

Another group of 12 attacked the practice of detaining citizens without charges. It was led by Chen Ziming, who was accused by the Chinese authorities of being the "black hand" behind the Tienanmen demonstrations in 1989.

Nearly all signatories in the group have been held for "investigation" without charges. Chen was sentenced to 13 years' jail in 1989, but was released last year after pressure from the US. The petition said these detentions are unconstitutional except for the backing of secret directives from three government ministries.

China's criminal code already provides for up to 10 days of detention during a criminal investigation, but these directives have extended the period to three months.

Official figures indicate only 2678 people are locked up in China because of their political views, or being "counter-revolutionaries", as the government calls them.

Chen, 42, has been under house arrest since his release but was reported by a Hong Kong newspaper to be forming a political group called the Constructive Political Opposition Faction together with other pro-democracy activists.

Another petition was sent by a group of 26 which includes former student leader Wang Dan, who was jailed for four years for his role in the Tienanmen demonstrations. It demands safeguards for human rights and protection of justice.

Wang joined 22 other signatories in a separate petition for the abolition of "re-education through labour", a measure widely used since the '50s to punish political opponents.

Shanghai leading political activists Yang Zhou, Bao Ge and Yang Qinheng were each sentenced to three years of such "re-education" last year. Yang Zhou is a founder of the Shanghai-based Association for Human Rights.

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