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Tangshan Petitioners Persecuted

July 2, 2004

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Zhang Youren, the leader of a group of displaced farmers in Hebei province, has been subjected to severe official persecution.

Zhang was forcibly confined to a hospital and is now under house arrest after more than 11,000 people signed a petition demanding the recall of Tangshan municipal party secretary Zhang He as a delegate to the National People’s Congress and the Hebei Provincial People’s Congress. The farmers, originally residents of a Manchu ethnic minority autonomous region, allege that Zhang He misappropriated funds set aside to compensate people displaced in the 1990s to make way for the Taolinkou reservoir on the Qinglong River near the city of Qinhuangdao.

A copy of the Tangshan residents’ petition, as well as a report written by Chinese sociologist Zhang Yaojie regarding the persecution of petition leader Zhang Youren, are appended in full to the Chinese press release. (Note: none of the Zhangs are related to each other.)

According to Zhang Yaojie’s report, Zhang Youren informed him on June 30 that the Tangshan Municipal Public Security Bureau had put him under house arrest on allegations of libel. Zhang Youren also told Zhang Yaojie that some 20,000 displaced residents are planning a mass expedition to Beijing to press their demands in the face of official intransigence.

Zhang Yaojie’s report states that Zhang Youren and his household of more than ten people were among those forced in 1996 to leave their rural homes for a village on the outskirts of Tangshan. Hebei provincial officials had at the time estimated the value of Zhang Youren’s holdings at over 550,000 yuan, but the Qinhuangdao municipal government ultimately paid his family a compensation of only 1,500 yuan. Zhang Youren said his elderly parents died out of despair over the move and their unjust treatment.

Since his forced removal, Zhang Youren has spearheaded efforts among displaced residents to insist on their rights and appropriate compensation, but up to now has received no official response. In March of this year, legal scholars and reporters helped circulate a petition that drew signatures from more than 11,000 displaced residents demanding Zhang He’s recall. However, when Zhang Youren led nine other residents in an attempt to deliver the petition to Beijing, they were arrested and forced to return to Tangshan.

Zhang Yaojie reports that following his forcible return to Tangshan he has been subjected to constant persecution and harassment. He was forcibly confined to a hospital for three months and subjected to countless injections, causing a flare-up in his diabetic condition. Police have also harassed those who assisted in circulating the petition, including legal scholars Yu Meisun and Li Boguang, and a reporter from the magazine China Reform, Zhao Yan. Although Zhang Youren was finally released from the hospital on June 18, he was placed under close surveillance culminating in the recent imposition of formal house arrest.

The petition alleges that Municipal Party Secretary Zhang He and his cohorts misappropriated a total of 60 million yuan in funds intended to compensate displaced residents, and used the money to build luxurious offices and cover other lavish and unauthorized expenditures. The petitioners claim that residents protesting their treatment have over the years been subjected to physical abuse and arbitrary detention. According to Zhang Yaojie’s report, residents have now abandoned hope of appealing through the normal official channels, and are planning to travel en masse to Beijing to press their demands.

More information on this issue can also be found on the Web site of Three Gorges Probe at http://www.threegorgesprobe.org/tgp/index.cfm?DSP=content&ContentID=9695.

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