Shenzhen seeks to mask rather than resolve social unrest

27 June 2019
New regulations drafted by the Shenzhen municipal government to outlaw public demonstrations involving self-harming and other disruptive behaviour by petitioners would be funny if they were not quite so tragic.

The draft Shenzhen SEZ Petitioning Regulations (深圳经济特区信访条例) state that those who violate the new restrictions on petitioning activities will be detained by the police and punished according to law.

Shenzhen lawmakers seem to be unaware of the fact that right now in China, if anyone attempts to harm themselves in public; they will almost certainly be arrested and detained by the police for weeks if not months on end.

This was certainly the case with the four former power workers from Hunan who cut off the tip of their little finger in a public protest in Beijing last year. Without even getting treatment for their wounds, the four petitioners were bundled back to their home town by several local officials, including the county’s deputy police chief, who bluntly told them, “I am the law.”

The regulations seem to be just yet another attempt by the authorities to mask or hide China’s social problems rather than actually confronting them directly and trying to resolve them. Rather than asking what would drive someone to self-mutilation, the only concern of the authorities seems to be to prevent such acts from occurring and to punish those who dare to commit them.

The reasons why petitioners harm themselves in public protests are not hard to find. The petitioning system itself is immensely frustrating. Even if they can get a foot in the door, petitioners are pushed around from local government office to local government office and usually end up right where they started. Many feel they have no option but to travel to Beijing and petition the central government. But if they do, they run the risk of being intercepted, beaten and detained in black jails by local government officials stationed in the capital.

Many workers resort to petitioning because they have already been frustrated by China’s labour dispute resolution system. Workers laid-off from state-owned enterprises are specifically excluded from legal redress by Supreme Court rulings in the early 2000s, while those suffering from occupational disease have to overcome all manner of obstacles created by the law, the local authorities and their employer while seeking compensation. For more details see CLB’s research report: The Hard Road. Seeking justice for the victims of pneumoconiosis in China.

It is little wonder that workers turn to public protest in an attempt to bolster their claims. As was the case in the summer of 2009 when a group of about 180 former construction workers from Hunan returned to Shenzhen to demand compensation for the lung disease they had contracted a decade or so earlier building the city’s skyscrapers and subway lines.

Frustrated by bureaucratic delays, the workers staged a demonstration outside city hall on 15 June. And after protracted negotiations, the authorities eventually agreed to a total compensation payment of around 14 million yuan.
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