China holds back people with complaints ahead of legislative session

China's government is trying to block protests during the annual meeting of its figurehead parliament by detaining people with complaints ranging from poor health care to land seizures, detainees and activists said Friday.

Thousands of people visit Beijing each year during the meeting of parliament, hoping to air complaints about corruption and other problems. Police routinely detain them and send them home.

This year, those detained or warned not to protest during the 10-day session, which begins Sunday, include AIDS patients who want better medical care and people who have petitioned the government after losing their homes to redevelopment.

Liu Xinjuan, an activist who has complained about homes being demolished without proper compensation, was sent home to Shanghai from Beijing and forced into a mental hospital, said the New York-based Human Rights in China. The Chinese government frequently is accused of sending dissidents to mental institutions.

A woman who answered the phone at Shanghai's Minxin Mental Health Center confirmed that Liu was there. The woman, who identified herself only by the surname Zhang, refused to give details about Liu's case or say when she would be released.

Ji Wenpai, who said her house outside Beijing was demolished in 2004 without compensation, said police were blocking her and her husband from going to the city during the parliament session.

Ji, 46, said her family now lives with her husband's parents.

"Now the police are outside my in-laws' home," she said in a telephone interview. "Yesterday, two police officers came to the house and took my phone book away," apparently to keep her from contacting people outside.

Beijing health activist Wan Yanhai said police have warned 10 people from the central province of Henan who say they were infected with the AIDS virus through a blood-buying bank to stay out of the capital.

Zhang Jianping, who says he was paralyzed after being struck by a car owned by a forestry official, said six police officers were outside his home in the eastern city of Yixing to keep him from going to Beijing.

"I hope every person in China can fully enjoy citizen's rights, whether they're rich or poor," said the unemployed former chemical plant manager. "I hope China can bring about democracy and a clean judicial system in the near future."

A city official in Yixing, who identified herself by the surname Jiang, said the local government was concerned with Zhang's case and had offered his family financial help.

China has a centuries-old tradition of people from the provinces coming to the capital to appeal for help with problems ranging from corrupt local officials to land disputes.

The practice has continued into the communist era, despite the government's creation of a nationwide network of complaint offices that are supposed to hear and resolve grievances.

Petitioners include farmers who've lost their land, laid-off workers who say they were cheated of unemployment benefits and people who say they were mistreated by officials enforcing China's strict birth-control policies.

Many complain that local officials want to hide embarrassing information. But the central government also joins in suppressing complaints, organizing police China to collect petitioners in Beijing and return them to their hometowns, sometimes by the busload.

Human Rights in China said police also are trying to suppress knowledge of a hunger strike launched by activist Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng to protest violence against political activists.

Gao and other activists say at least a dozen people have been detained after scores of people around China took part in the strike, which began last month.

Shanghai activist Wang Lizhuang was detained on suspicion of publicizing the hunger strike on the Internet, HRIC said. It said police seized his computer and other materials, reports the AP.


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