In Cina i manifestanti pagano un prezzo

Ji Suzun è stato arrestato a Beijing dove si era recato per protestare. L’avvocato cinese autodidatta di cinquantanove anni ha passato gli ultimi dieci anni a combattere contro la corruzione nella provincia di Fujian. Era partito per la capitale con l’idea di manifestare il suo dissenso nelle apposite aree che il governo aveva dichiarato di concedere ai manifestanti. Come risultato, dopo otto mesi di detenzione, è stato condannato alla massima pena prevista per l’accusa di aver falsificato dei timbri ufficiali su alcune delle pratiche dei suoi assistiti. I suoi parenti e molte organizzazioni umanitarie sostengono che l’intera faccenda sia una montatura.

Dall’inizio dei giochi in agosto, la situazione per i cittadini che hanno preso parte alle dimostrazioni è peggiorata. Due donne che protestavano per uno sfratto forzato risalente al duemilauno testimoniano di essere tenute sotto stretta sorveglianza anche se ancora in libertà.

La storia di Ji Suzun è un esempio di valore morale e civile. E’ il quinto di otto fratelli nati da una famiglia di contadini. Ancora piccolo, smise di andare a scuola quando cominciò la rivoluzione culturale dopodichè fece vari lavori fra cui il carpentiere ed il bracciante agricolo. Ha scelto di non sposarsi e non avere figli per dedicarsi allo studio. Ji credeva fortemente negli ideali di Mao Zedong e nel comunismo e nutriva rancore nei confronti degli ufficiali profittatori che vedeva infangare questo sogno rubando allo stato. Nel duemila è riuscito a conquistarsi la fiducia della gente nella sua regione per averli aiutati con le loro lamentele. Quando è partito per Beijing per protestare era convinto che nulla sarebbe successo, che la Cina comunista l’avesse autorizzato a portare davanti al pubblico le sue battaglie.

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When Ji Sizun heard that the Chinese government had agreed to create three special zones in Beijing for peaceful public protests during the 2008 Summer Olympics, he celebrated. He said in an interview at the time that he believed the offer was sincere and represented the beginning of a new era for human rights in China.

Ji, 59, a self-taught legal advocate who had spent 10 years fighting against corrupt officials in his home province of Fujian on China’s southeastern coast, immediately packed his bags and was one of the first in line in Beijing to file his application to protest.

It is now clear that his hope was misplaced.

In the end, official reports show, China never approved a single protest application — despite its repeated pledges to improve its human rights record when it won the bid to host the Games. Some would-be applicants were taken away by force by security officials and held in hotels to prevent them from filing the paperwork. Others were scared away by warnings that they could face “difficulties” if they went through with their applications.

Ji has spent the past eight months in various states of arrest and detention. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed, on charges of faking official seals on documents he filed on behalf of his clients. Ji is appealing.

His relatives and human rights groups argue that the entire court case was a farce — a punishment for Ji’s refusal to back down during the Olympics.

“It wasn’t fair to arrest him like this. All he did was to help ordinary people get their voices heard. For that they threw some fake accusations at him,” said his sister Ji Xiuzhuang, 63.

Only 77 applications were officially filed. Even so, all but three were subsequently withdrawn, the state-run New China News Agency said, after authorities “satisfactorily addressed” petitioners’ concerns. Of the rest, two were rejected because the applicants did not provide adequate information, and the last because it violated China’s laws on demonstrations.

Since the Games in August, the situation for the Chinese citizens who had tried to apply for the Olympics permits has worsened, and some of the more outspoken applicants, such as Ji, have been harassed or detained.

Two women from Beijing in their late 70s, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying, were sentenced to a year of reeducation in a labor camp for protesting their forced eviction from their homes in 2001; the sentence was reduced and later rescinded, but the women said in an interview that they are being closely monitored by local police and that cameras have been installed outside their homes.

Tang Xuecheng, an entrepreneur in his 40s who had gone to Beijing to protest the government’s seizure of his mining company, was detained by local officials and sent to a “mental hospital for mental health assessment,” according to a public security official in his home town in Chenzhou city in Hunan province. Tang was released several months later.

Zhong Ruihua, 62, and nine others from the industrial city of Liuzhou who tried to petition against property seizures were arrested and have been charged with disturbing the public order. Zhang Qiuping, Zhong Ruihua’s youngest daughter, saw her mother for the first time since August on Feb. 23, during her trial.

“They put my mom under house arrest in different hotels for months and never showed us any official documents. . . . The prosecution said she was just having a ‘study session.’ What on earth is this kind of ‘study session’? Which law says this is legal?” said Zhang, 28, a stay-at-home mother Ji — one of a growing legion of “barefoot lawyers,” activists who take on cases for disenfranchised citizens but who don’t hold law degrees — is the first of the would-be protesters to be convicted of criminal charges.

The fifth of eight children born to a farming couple in this city on the southern edge of Fujian province, near the Taiwan Strait, Ji had been a talented writer as a child but stopped attending school in junior high when the Cultural Revolution began.

He later took jobs as a coal miner, a carpenter, a factory worker and, eventually, as China began capitalist-style economic reforms, a business development and marketing manager for a locally owned government enterprise. He never married or had children, preferring instead to devote his free time to his studies. He finished the Chinese equivalent of a GED and then a self-study college degree.

Ji became obsessed with the public library in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province. He would spend hours there reading about political theory, justice and the law. Ji was a strong believer in the ideals of Mao Zedong and communism, and he had become angry that this dream was being corrupted by unscrupulous public officials who were stealing from the public.

But at his core, Ji was an optimist and believed that change was possible from within the system. He decided he would learn the letter of the law so that he could help laobaixing, or ordinary people, deal with their grievances. He took on cases for free and lived on 3 yuan, less than 50 cents, a day.

Starting in 2000, he began to gain fame in his area after he won case after case against officials who had illegally detained citizens, mafialike gangs that tried to pressure villagers to leave their land and a mining and steel factory that was polluting the local environment.

He was so successful that his family became worried that his freelance legal work would eventually land him in jail if he crossed the wrong person. “I would tell him to stop what he’s doing. I said, ‘You don’t even have a lawyer’s certificate,’ ” his sister said. She said his biggest weakness as a legal advocate was the very thing that drove him: his faith in the rule of law.

When Ji went to Beijing in August armed with carefully prepared documents about a dozen local cases — including one about a man who died in detention and others about illegal land seizures — he was convinced that because China had passed a law allowing him to file a protest application, nothing bad could come of it.

He had recently been evicted from his home office in Fuzhou on suspicion of trying to incite people to petition in Beijing, friends said, but even then he didn’t waver from his conviction that China’s central government would keep its promises to allow public dissent during the Games, according to his sisters and friends.

On the way to the government offices in Beijing, Ji ran into a man named Tang Xuecheng on the bus. Tang said he was a businessman and had been having trouble with corrupt officials in his home town and was also going to hand in a protest application. They exchanged contact information and split up to check in at their respective hotels. Ji said Tang called him shortly afterward, saying that he had been arrested and to stay away from the public security bureau. Instead, Ji repeatedly went there to try to get authorities to accept his protest application and to demand that Tang be released, his lawyer said. On his third visit, on Aug. 11, Ji was intercepted by a delegation of government and security officials from Fujian province who told him to “stop making trouble and go back.” Authorities sent him to Zhangzhou, where he had grown up, and then to Fuzhou, where he was put under house arrest. After one month in custody, he was formally charged with forging official documents and seals.

Since word of Ji’s arrest leaked out, people whom he defended have rallied together to raise the equivalent of about $515 to pay some of his legal fees.

Lin Lanying, a 58-year-old grocery store owner who knows Ji from the work he did on a compensation case following a traffic accident, said police came to her home in mid-September to look at documents and other belongings that Ji had left for safekeeping when he went to Beijing. She said she felt they were hunting around for something, anything they could use to charge him with a crime

“He definitely never broke the law. He is not guilty. It’s pure retaliation,” Lin said.

In a letter Ji wrote to his family in February from the No. 2 Detention House in Fuzhou, he said that despite his predicament, he has not lost faith in China’s legal system.

“Everything is fine here, please don’t worry! Please believe that I only have done good rather than brought harm to our people and country. I will win the lawsuit in the end,” Ji wrote.

His sister Ji Qiaozhuang said she has been surprised and disappointed by how he has been treated because he has never advocated controversial positions such as the end of one-party rule.

“He’s not a revolutionary, a young man with anti-government feelings,” she said. “He’s an old man who just wants to help others. China needs people like him to progress.”

The Washington Post

Researchers Liu Liu and Wang Juan in Beijing contributed to this report.

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