Xin Lin | Radio Free Asia
Bereaved parents in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Thursday marked the eighth anniversary of the devastating 2008 earthquake with a new strategy in their bid to win compensation and transparency from local officials, a key activist said.
Parents who lost children in the widespread collapse of school buildings have applied to file a lawsuit at the Mianzhu People’s Court in one of the areas worst-hit by the earthquake，according to activist and writer Tan Zuoren.
More than 80,000 people, thousands of them schoolchildren, died in the May 12, 2008 earthquake that devastated mountainous regions of the southwestern province and especially school buildings.
But years-long campaigning for compensation and for financial assistance promised as part of the reconstruction program have yielded nothing, parent activists told RFA.
Sichuan-based Tan, who was jailed for five years in May 2009 for “incitement to subvert state power” after he tried to probe the deaths of schoolchildren in the 8.0 magnitude quake, said he was aware of the attempt to file a lawsuit by bereaved parents from the No. 2 Fuxin secondary school in Fuxin, but didn’t know if the court had accepted the application.
“They said that they would give them a response today, but I still don’t know what that response was,” Tan said. “I don’t know whether the court has accepted the case or not.”
“The court is no longer taking orders from local government or [ruling Chinese] Communist Party secretary, but from the next level up in the hierarchy,” he said.
Tan said he was taken to a police station on Thursday, and is still under tight police surveillance.
“Today is a politically sensitive date, and I was taken by police down to the police station to make a statement,” Tan told RFA. “I am under close surveillance.”
Change of strategy
Tan said he had advised the quake parents not to lodge any more complaints, in a change of strategy that tries to bypass a nationwide “stability maintenance” domestic security process.
“Lodging complaints comes under the heading of stability maintenance, but if they file lawsuits, one by one, as individuals, on a topic that is appropriate for civil lawsuits, they can just keep doing that, even if it doesn’t work at first,” Tan said.
“That way, there is always someone there fighting for the cause.”
Tan said the parents’ new strategy is in line with government slogans about ruling China by law.
“They need a bit more technique, rather than going off en masse to petition, which leads to a disastrous outcome.”
The bereaved families say they want an inquiry into allegations of shoddy construction of “bean curd” school buildings, many of which collapsed while other buildings remained standing.
But lawyers have been warned off accepting cases linked to Sichuan’s child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice.
And parents who petition have been subject to beatings, arbitrary detention, and other forms of official harassment.
‘New generation’ of victims
Official figures show that 5,335 children died in the quake, although unofficial sources say the number could be as high as 10,000.
Sichuan-based Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said that Beijing’s post-quake reconstruction program has also created a new generation of victims from forced evictions and demolition of homes deemed “dangerous” in the wake of the quake.
“There seems to be some relaxation compared with previous years regarding memorial events for the May 12 earthquake,” Huang said.
“But the post-quake reconstruction led to a huge amount of land being taken over by the government at rock-bottom prices, creating a new generation of earthquake victims,” he said.
“But the parents of the schoolchildren are still the biggest group fighting for their rights in connection to the 2008 earthquake,” he added.
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