Petitioners who “seriously disrupted the normal life and work order of local government leaders” should be jailed for up to 15 years, according to an NPC deputy in charge of legal affairs in a regional legislature.
The proposal by Liu Qingning , deputy director of the legal affairs committee of the Guangxi regional people’s congress, attracted criticism from internet users, lawyers and petitioners.
Liu said 20 actions in the process of petitioning – seeking government vindication or redress by complaining to government offices – should be criminalised if they were repeated and caused “serious consequences”.
The actions include chanting slogans, unfurling banners, distributing printed or written material, staging sit-ins, blocking exits of buildings, occupying or overstaying in petition offices, suicide attempts and self-harm, The Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.
Liu did not spell out what he believed amounted to “serious consequences”. But he proposed that a jail sentence of up to three years should be handed to petitioners involved in one such action, rising to seven to 15 years for “particularly serious cases”.
Liu said “illegal petitioning” had become a serious problem and “only very few people know that the Communist Party and the State Council have attached great importance to the work of [handling] petitioners and, in order to maximise their interests, they have taken the initiative to petition Beijing in order to increase pressure on local governments”.
Angry internet users lashed out at the proposal and called it a blatant violation of the constitution. Some wondered whether Liu represented the people or “corrupt officials”.
One blogger, Wu Yonglin , said Liu had the mindset of a feudal lord. In his blog, Wu made a counterproposal that the criminal code should be amended to make it a criminal offence if officials failed to do their best to handle complaints and petitions from the public.
Xu Zhiyong , an outspoken legal activist for petitioners, said that petitioners were victims and such a proposal would only add to their suffering.
“If there are petitioners, that means the government has not done a good job,” he said. “Officials should bear responsibility for social conflicts, not the petitioners.”
Shanghai-based petitioner Xue Haiquan said: “It is what a lot of officials have in mind: to persecute petitioners … One only becomes a petitioner because he or she is unfairly treated.”
She was sent back to Shanghai from Beijing on March 6 when she attempted to lodge a complaint against a hospital that she claimed had disabled her after an operation in 2002. She has been detained twice, in 2007 and 2008, for petitioning.