Chinese take justice into own hands

2011-05-30 11:02

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Beijing - A deadly triple bomb attack in China carried out last week by a jobless man angry over a land dispute illustrates the crushing desperation of many Chinese who feel their rights are being trampled.

Car bombs and Molotov cocktails have been used by citizens who opt for vigilante justice in the Communist-ruled country, where the justice system has created mounting frustrations that could provoke more violence.

Experts say that despite the introduction of some reforms to address charges the system is unresponsive and lacks transparency, the public perception is that those changes are woefully inadequate, and rule of law is not guaranteed.

"Paradoxically, the judicial system is becoming more and more modern," Stephanie Balme, a French scholar on Chinese law based in Beijing, said, citing as evidence the massive jump in the number of lawyers in China - from 300 to 130 000 over the past 20 years.

But "because people have more legal recourse, there is a gap between their expectations and a system that is in the process of reform but which cannot fulfil all of those expectations", Balme said.

Qian Mingqi - the 52-year-old man suspected of triggering blasts at three public buildings on Thursday in the eastern city of Fuzhou, which left three dead including himself - is one of many in China who feel the system failed him.

Uncompensated


"For the past 10 years, I have suffered a great injustice. I cannot find justice. I was forced to go down a road I didn't want to take," Qian wrote on his microblog account.

"I will get justice myself, through concrete action."

Qian's plight borders on the surreal - after losing his home in 1995 to make way for a highway, a second home was demolished in 2001... to make way for the same highway, the China Business News reported.

In some of his 300 angry microblog postings over the past six months, Qian accused local Communist party officials of pocketing some of the compensation that he was meant to receive in exchange for his repossessed property.

"I suffered losses of about two million yuan ($310 000), which is huge for me," Qian said.

Two weeks ago in the northwestern province of Gansu, more than 40 people were injured when a disgruntled former employee set off a petrol bomb at a bank in protest over being laid off.

Similar attacks

Individuals angry over perceived injustices such as land expropriations and forced evictions, business disputes or other pressures associated with China's rapid modernisation have increasingly resorted to desperate acts of violence.

In September last year, three people set themselves on fire in Fuzhou - the scene of last week's explosions - over a land dispute. One died.

Early last year, China saw a string of stabbing attacks at schools over a span of two months that left 17 people dead, including 15 children, and more than 80 wounded.

The attacks were carried out by disgruntled loners or mentally unstable people and prompted national hand-wringing over China's focus on economic growth at the expense of addressing mental problems linked to social change.

"Authorities should learn to open smoother channels for the public to file their complaints before problems turn into confrontations and then violence," Mao Shoulong, a professor of public policy at Renmin University, told the Global Times.

While deadly rampages have taken place in other countries such as the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland in recent years, the Chinese problem is specifically linked to the perceived lack of legal recourse.

Unlikely hero

Wronged Chinese queue up in Beijing or provincial capitals to petition authorities over injustices, but many complain of official unresponsiveness to their concerns, while others report being detained in so-called "black jails".

"What is absolutely certain is that there will be more and more of these types of incidents," Balme said, referring to the Fuzhou bomb attacks.

"The media can no longer cover these up."

In deep rural China, "it is much more difficult for those who seek justice in the courts to avoid corruption and arbitrary decisions when they themselves have no way to defend their rights".

Qian's microblog account has been flooded with posthumous messages of support, making him an unlikely hero - a result sure to irritate government leaders and the Communist party's top brass.

Human rights activist Liu Feiyue said many "could be inspired" by Qian's actions, explaining: "He carefully chose his targets - corrupt officials who violate the rights of simple people."

Liu noted the "resentment, even hatred, that builds up in the hearts of petitioners", later morphing into "violent vengeance".

"This proves that the judicial system and the petitioning system in China are not effective," he said.

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