HONG KONG—A court in the northern port city of Tianjin has sentenced petitioner Zheng Mingfang to two years' imprisonment after she signed an application for 10,000 people to march in Tiananmen Square last August.
Beijing-based petitioner Ye Mingjun said he had learned "via the Internet,” while "chatting" to Zheng's son, that an unspecified local court had recently handed down the two-year jail term on charges of "illegal business activities.”
Zheng—who pursued complaints of extortion against local officials and miscarried a pregnancy following a police beating—was taken away from her home in Tianjin last September, and no news has emerged of her since then.
Her son told me while we were chatting that if he didn't pursue his mother's case, then the police wouldn't press charges against his father. If he does, they will charge his father as well. My feeling about it is that the father doesn't want the two children to have much contact with the rest of the world.
Zheng's husband had been warned off pursuing his wife's case lest he also be charged and sentenced, Ye said.
"Her son told me while we were chatting that if he didn't pursue his mother's case, then the police wouldn't press charges against his father. If he does, they will charge his father as well," Ye told RFA reporter Fang Yuan. "My feeling about it is that the father doesn't want the two children to have much contact with the rest of the world.”
China has recently issued a new set of regulations aimed at limiting the number of petitioner from outside the capital who make it to Beijing to press grievances at official wrongdoing.
National leaders have estimated that at least 80 percent of petitioner complaints are well-founded, but treat public displays of discontent harshly, local petitioners told RFA.
Beijing-based petitioner Li Yulan said that few now remained in "petitioner village,” a shanty town close to the southern railway station in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai.
"They have been forcibly sent back where they came from. Some of them have been detained, or arrested by security officers from their own region. When that happens, they are often sentenced to re-education through labor for three years on the spot," Li told RFA.
"I have heard national security police say that they crack down particularly hard on petitioners from outside Beijing," she said.
Police in Beijing said Friday they had placed 19 petitioners from the northeastern province of Jilin under criminal detention after they attempted to march into Tiananmen Square from southern Beijing, carrying banners describing their plight Friday.
"The police released a statement on July 15 saying that a group of 19 petitioners had been detained after illegally demonstrating and marching towards Tiananmen Square and Chang'an Avenue. There were no names and no contact telephone number," a petitioner surnamed Bai told RFA's Mandarin service.
Ye Mingjun said his father, Ye Guozhu, who was sentenced to four years in jail after applying alongside Zheng to stage the 10,000-strong demonstration last year, had been held in an unknown location for almost a year now.
"We don't know where he is," Ye told RFA. "To put it bluntly, we don't even know if he is still alive. I have tried to make enquiries at various prisons via some friends, but haven't managed to get news of him."
"By rights, they should have contacted us by now and we should have the right to go and visit him. But that right has effectively been taken away from us."
Under Chinese criminal law, suspects "who do not tell their true name and place of residence, or whose identity is unclear” or those ''who are strongly suspected of having roamed from place to place committing crimes, or of committing repeated crimes, or of forming gangs to commit crimes" may be detained without being formally arrested or charged for up to 37 days.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.