Since imperial times, China has permitted its citizens to file official complaints. But the State Bureau for Letters and Calls that governs the system is again warning petitioners to respect its protocol, or expect their petition to be ignored.
In its newest body of regulations, the bureau said this week that anyone with a complaint should pursue it close to home and preferably in writing. The regulations take aim at efforts by many protesters to cut red tape and pursue their bureaucratic, legal and financial grievances in Beijing, where they hope to get a fair hearing -- despite a low rate of success. The rules state that petitions that arrive from outside the channels will not be accepted.
The bureau's new rules include instruction to government departments to close cases where they are the target of a complaint within 60 days -- if they accept the case -- and to not extend that period more than 30 days. The state bureau said a complainant unhappy with the initial decision can appeal one step up the bureaucratic ladder within 30 days.
The changes are the latest to a system that everyone -- from government officials to police to petitioners -- says needs fixing. The central government has repeatedly introduced laws and technology in ways that petitioners and rights groups say suppress complaints to the capital. The suppression is at times backed up by brute force typically attributed to authorities where the complaints originally initiated. But petitioners who claim to have been wronged by corrupt officials, unfair courts and cruel employers and can't get redress at home continue to flood to the letter bureau's Beijing offices and to supreme court and prosecutor's offices and other ministries.
Petitioners include people like Zhou Li, a former policeman from the northern city Shijiazhuang who has petitioned for redress since 2002 for what he says was his wrongful murder conviction in the 1980s. Mr. Zhou said by telephone on Thursday that he was railroaded, spending 14 years in prison following an accident involving the police car he was driving that left dead the son of a local government official.
In response to the latest rules, Mr. Zhou said it is unrealistic to expect decisions within 60 days, in particular in criminal cases like his.
He said any efforts to enforce the latest regulation will make some petitioners 'go to extremes.' He added, 'If you have top-down policies, local people always find a way around them.'
In the latest exposé of the lengths authorities sometimes go to block petitioners from reaching Beijing, the Chinese investigative magazine Caixin on Thursday published a lengthy story in English that detailed how some would-be protesters were allegedly stopped on their way to Beijing and held in a village house that the publication called a ' black jail.'
Chinese government officials, including a representative of the letters bureau, affirmed citizens' right to petition and the illegality of black jails late last year in a review before the United Nations Human Rights Council: 'China is committed to keeping the channel open for people to express grievances and make complaints. It prohibits restriction of normal acts of petition in any forms, and would never allow suppression of petitioners or establishment of any forms of 'black jails,'' it said.
Reminders by Chinese authorities that complaints must be handled within existing bureaucratic strictures aren't new.
In August 2009, the Communist Party's Political and Legislative Affairs Committee warned petitioners to 'not seek solutions by visiting Beijing' and instead instructed them to seek redress though legal channels locally.
That announcement, the committee said, was designed to ensure a 'harmonious' celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Communist Party rule in October 2009. The latest announcement comes six weeks before the 25th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
包括信访局一名代表在内的中国政府官员去年底在向联合国人权理事会(United Nations Human Rights Council)做的报告中重申，中国公民有上访权利，将上访者关入黑监狱是不合法的。报告称，中国致力于使人民表达不满和进行抱怨的渠道保持开放，禁止以任何形式限制正常的上访活动，并且永远不会允许镇压上访者或者建立任何形式的黑监狱。