A police dog patrols next to Tiananmen Square on the first day of a plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China, Oct. 24, 2016.
A police dog patrols next to Tiananmen Square on the first day of a plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China, Oct. 24, 2016.

HONG KONG - A large group of grievance petitioners were detained Monday in Beijing as Communist Party officials gathered for the sixth plenary session of the 18th Party Congress.

Over the weekend, thousands of people converged on Beijing ahead of the four-day central committee plenum, which marks the start of a political transition process that culminates in next year’s 19th Party Congress, where President Xi Jinping will seek re-election and try to appoint five of his own people to the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, a top decision-making body.

Protesters whisked away

Late Sunday, Chinese authorities rounded up petitioners gathered outside Beijing’s National Petition Bureau (NPB) and forced them onto buses bound for a detention center in the suburbs. The petitioners, who hail from across China, gathered outside the government complaints offices in the hopes of winning redress for long-running grievances against local officials. They coordinate their protests to coincide with the plenum because they see it as the best opportunity to draw attention to their complaints.

Jiang Jiawen, who was visiting from China’s northeastern Liaoning Province, said Monday that petitioners angry over NPB inaction were preparing to stage a demonstration calling for the agency’s top official to resign.

“As soon as the petitioners got off the bus, they would be stopped, searched and questioned,” Jiang said. “Most of the petitioners were escorted away.”

Policemen and security personnel stand guard on a
Policemen and security personnel stand guard on a closed road at the entrance to the Jingxi hotel where Communist Party Central Committee members gathered in Beijing, China, Oct. 24, 2016.




According to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), at least 1,000 petitioners had gathered Sunday, and at least 200 were present outside the NPB building Monday. It is not known exactly how many were detained.

“Police would surround the crowd when more people joined the gathering,” Jiang said. “Some people who had been forced onto the bus would jump out of the bus window. I was taken to [Jiujiang] village in the suburbs of Beijing, and I escaped when going through security.”

Jiang said he and other petitioners tried to go to Beijing West Hotel, the site of the plenary, but uniformed and plainclothes police officers were checking identity cards of anyone who attempted to enter a cordoned-off area stretching 200 to 300 meters from the hotel. Anyone identified as a petitioner was escorted to a waiting bus.

“There was heavy security in a large area near the hotel,” Jiang said. “There’s a checkpoint on every block ... if they find out you are a petitioner or a protester, they call in a police car to take you to the nearby bus.”

Wang Qingzhuang, a petitioner from the northeastern Heilongjiang Province, told VOA that many of those being detained at the Jiujiang facility were arrested in the general vicinity of the hotel.

“We were walking in the Beijing West Railway Station, which is not so near the hotel,” Wang said. “When police checked my ID and saw I had petition records, they put me on a bus and sent me to Jiujiang.”

NPC candidates barred

On Monday, Beijing police also barred 18 candidates seeking election as local-level deputies to the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress (BMPC) from participating in a campaign event attended by foreign media. The BMPC is an adjunct body of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is largely considered a rubber stamp legislature. Police visited the 18 candidates at home and warned them against accepting foreign media interviews.

Beijing resident Ye Jinghuan, who recently tried to register as a candidate, told RFA Monday that she was repeatedly questioned by local police over the preceding 24 hours. She said some candidates were placed under house arrest.

“I was visited by some police officers from my local police station and some from the district police department who wanted to have a chat with me to tell me not to attend an information event at the home of Yang Lingyun in Dongcheng district,” Ye said. “Since then, I have been taking certain measures, but some people have been whisked away on enforced vacations away from Beijing, while others have been prevented from leaving their homes by [police] blocking their door.”

Visitors walk past images of China's past and pre
Visitors walk past images of China's past and present leaders, from left, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping on display at an exhibition on the Long March at the military museum in Beijing, Oct. 24, 2016.

Wang Xiuzhen, also a prospective candidate, confirmed with RFA that she is under house arrest in Beijing’s Chaoyang district.

“I didn’t manage to go [to the event] today,” Wang said. “They are sitting out there in the hallway waiting for me, and they won’t let me go out ... I can’t even go out to buy groceries.”

An official who answered the phone at the Beijing People’s Congress standing committee offices Monday said she couldn’t help.

A number of independent candidates seeking election as local deputies to the BMPC have claimed suppression by municipal election officials. Some told VOA that officials rejected mandatory recommendation forms or invalidated the documents as fraudulent. Others have been arrested. The 18 candidates from Beijing issued a joint statement October 14 saying that they are running as deputies to the NPC because they want to speak for the people.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Mandarin Service. Some information is from RFA’s Yang Fan, Wong Siu-san and Sing Man.