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Petitioner's Mission Ends in Asylum

By Chen Yong and Zhu Changjun (an Intern)

Nation, page 13,

Issue No. 529, July 25, 2011

Translated by Zhu Na

Original article: [Chinese]



 Six years after losing his job at a food factory, Mr. He (老何) is in a mental asylum, but he’s not a lunatic, just a petitioner who wouldn’t give up.

“He has been stubborn since he was young. He had nothing to live on due to the restructuring [of his old company], so he just wanted to ask for justice,” recalls one of his neighbors.

Mr. He made his last trip to Beijing at the end of July. As usual, he took a room near the Petition Agency (信访局), and sent a text message to local officials from his hometown so they “wouldn’t get into trouble.” Not long before, he had been drinking with one of them who joked about sending him to an asylum. Mr. He’s response: “Fine…they provide meals there.”

Now he’s one of the 1.6 million Chinese that the Ministry of Health classifies as a danger to society or themselves.

Mr. He’s route to the asylum began eight years ago when the government decided to restructure the Inner Mongolia Hengfeng Food Industry, where he worked. Two years later, he and many of his colleagues went on a hunger strike to protest the loss of their jobs. The government claimed that the company was insolvent, but the workers refused to believe it – Mongolia Hengfeng had just got a AA rating from the Agricultural Bank of China.

 Mr. He and his colleagues eventually called off the hunger strike and went to Beijing instead.  They claimed that Mongolia Hengfeng had many valuable assets, including its trademark and found a government-accredited assessor who said it was worth 100,000 yuan.

In the government's view, Mongolia Hengfeng’s problems had been brought about by poor management.

 Even so, in 2008, the petitioners won some concessions from local officials who were keen to keep them out of Beijing during the Olympics. They were offered new jobs elsewhere. For Mr. He this meant working as a salesman in the western province of Qinghai (青海).

 He lasted a year in the job before he was sacked for missing sales targets. He asked the company for disability benefit. His request was ignored and so he took up petitioning again.

 Soon afterwards, he spent five days in detention on a visit to Beijing during the government’s "two  sessions," followed by a year at a work camp near his hometown of Bayan Nur. His offence: disrupting public order.

 “Re-education through labor” is effective enough to persuade most petitioners to drop their causes, but Mr. He persisted.

 This was when he got to know the local officials. He started sending them text messages, signing off as an honest Communist Party member.

 The officials were sent to watch over him in his flat. "Please stop your text messages and trips to Beijing," they implored.

 In July 2010, they asked a mental asylum to determine whether his obsessive petitioning was evidence of a psychiatric condition. The asylum gave him some drugs and sent him home.

 A year later, when the officials outside his flat were away, he sneaked out and took the train to Beijing. When he arrived, he met up with officials from the Bayan Nur liaison office, who bought him lunch and a train ticket home the next day. He promised to use it.

 He didn’t. Instead, he showed up in front of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC, the Communist Party institution charged with rooting out corruption and malfeasance.

 Then three days later he was sent to Bayan Nur Mental Illness Rehabilitation Welfare Centre.

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