China: Labor camp for choir leader
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||3 October 2012|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, China: Labor camp for choir leader, 3 October 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5073cc2cc.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Authorities hand down a one-year labor sentence to a woman who tried to boost the morale of Chinese petitioners.
A statue of Mao Zedong in Chongqing, October 2008. AFP
A protesting evictee who led the singing of revolutionary, Mao era anthems in the Chinese capital has been sentenced to one year in labor camp, as the authorities clamp down on ordinary people seeking to complain about the government ahead of a crucial leadership transition.
Yao Yuling, who was detained by police in mid-August as she sang "red songs" outside the People's Supreme Procuratorate in Beijing, was handed a year's "reeducation through labor," in a notice seen by her family this week.
"It was one year," her sister said in an interview on Wednesday. "The notice was issued by the Nanhu police station in Nanjing [dated] Sept. 26, and it says that the decision was made by the reeducation-through-labor committee of Nanjing."
She said the authorities had sent no written notification to Yao's family, although they had been allowed to view the document.
"We asked them for it, and they wouldn't give it to us," Yao's sister, Yao Xiumei, said.
"They tried to get my sister to sign it, but she refused to sign. They wanted me to sign it but I told them there was no way were going to do that," she added.
Yao was singing the songs alongside dozens of fellow petitioners in a protest chorus on Aug. 16 and 17 outside China's state prosecution service in Beijing when she was detained.
"There were a few dozen people at the gates of the Procuratorate, and they said that Yao Yuling took a megaphone and starting shouting slogans to the crowd," her sister said.
"They said that my sister had brought those people there ... They also said that she had sung a few songs, like 'The Communist Party is Close to my Heart'."
She said the sentence was a direct result of her sister's petitioning activities. "They wanted her to stop petitioning ... No one would sort out her complaint."
According to the Sichuan-based rights website Tianwang, Yao had headed an informal choir of petitioners in Beijing, who gave public renditions of Mao era classics like "The East is Red," and "On Jingshan in Beijing."
The performances were given to boost morale among China's army of petitioners, many of whom have pursued complaints over official wrongdoing for many years, often to no avail, the website said.
"Singing revolutionary songs as a form of expression is a basic human right of citizens," the website said in an article on Yao's sentencing.
"No organization, nor individual, should use the machinery of state to stop people from expressing themselves," it said.
China's nationwide "stability maintenance" drive has tightened controls on rights activists and lawyers ahead of the 18th Party Congress next month, rights activists say.
The authorities routinely disperse petitioners who gather to sing revolutionary songs from the Mao era, or who use public images of former supreme leader Mao Zedong as a focus for protest.
In July, Beijing authorities detained 10 eviction protesters after they staged a protest in Tiananmen Square, kneeling en masse in front of the portrait of Mao, a symbol of communist rule in China and an unofficial icon for the poor and oppressed.
The petitioners tried the protest after all their previous attempts to complain about the evictions and demolitions had led nowhere, and were given a five-day administrative sentence by police without trial.
"Reeducation-through-labor" sentences are administrative, although largely controlled by the police, and can be handed down for up to a maximum of three years, without the need for a trial.
Police may also hold people under "administrative detention" for up to 15 days without recourse to judicial processes.
The recent overturning of a labor camp sentence already served by a political cartoonist in Chongqing has highlighted growing calls among lawyers and rights activists for the entire labor camp system to be abolished, which many say is an unnecessary form of extrajudicial punishment.
Land acquisition and forced evictions, often linked to lucrative property deals for local officials, spark thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, and those who complain or seek redress are frequently subjected to unofficial detentions, beatings and labor camp sentences.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.