These may sound like words coming from a mob boss: whack our targets, and if unable to locate them, find their friends and relatives. But these are precisely the words uttered by a municipal Chinese Communist Party official while talking about how petitioners—ordinary citizens who appeal the Beijing authorities about their grievances—should be dealt with.
This was revealed in a three-minute-long recording of a “maintenance stability”—a euphemism for clamping down on dissent—meeting held by local officials in Wu’an City in northern China’s Hebei Province, which has recently leaked online, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA) on May 15. While the date of the meeting is not known, three people are identified in the recording—Guo, the head of a local court; Li, the city’s police chief; and Han Baokui, the head of the municipal Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body.
Han is the main speaker in the recording. He labels the petitioners collectively as people who are “against the [Chinese Communist] Party and the government.”
“People who travel to Beijing and those who incite others to go to Beijing should be dealt with harshly,” Han says in the recording.
Han goes on to elaborate how it should be done, saying, “Since these people are willing to oppose the [Chinese Communist] Party and the government, we hit them.” And if police cannot track down these petitioners, Han tells officials at the meeting “to look for their family members and friends.”
Petitioning the central authorities is a tradition that dates back to ancient China, when citizens would travel to the capital and plead with officials of the imperial court as a last resort to seek justice.
Such a petitioning system still exists in modern-day China, but petitioners have continually faced arrests and harassment by Chinese Communist authorities. Many petitioners end up being detained at a black jail in Beijing known as Jiujingzhuang.
In the recording, Han openly boasts about how easy it is to track down someone if he or she leaves an online comment unfavorable to the Party. Finally, Han says everything “should be carried out in secrecy.”
Han’s comments exemplify how petitioners are harshly treated in China.
“His remarks are representative of the central authorities’ stance. Didn’t Meng Jianzhu, [the former] party secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission [previously controlled the country’s entire security apparatus], once say stability trumps everything?” said Jiang Jiawen, a well-known human rights activist from northern China’s Liaoning Province in an interview with New York-based broadcaster NTD.
Jiang added, “Petitioners from Wuhan, Hubei Province, who went to Beijing, have been cleared out and then thrown into black jails.” In other provinces, such as Shandong, Jilin, Liaoning, many petitioners were given long sentences, according to Jiang.
Without true rule of law, anyone whom the Party disapproves of is bound to be unfairly prosecuted, according to Li Jianfeng, a former Chinese judge in coastal China’s Fujian Province.
According to RFA, Han was formerly the party secretary of the local Political and Legal Affairs Commission office in Wu’an. After the “709 incident,” when hundreds of human rights lawyers across China were arrested, detained, and interrogated in July 2015, Han issued an order to the local lawyers association to carry out “maintenance stability” tasks—meaning to help crack down on the human rights lawyers.
The Chinese regime consistently spends more on stamping out dissent than on its military. In 2009, “public safety” spending exceeded the country’s defense budget by 87 billion yuan (about $14 billion). From 2011 to 2013, the same trend followed.
By tarnishing petitioners as people who “oppose the Party and the government,” or in other words, enemies of the state, Chinese regime could better maintain its rule, said Sui Muqing, a human rights lawyer from Guangzhou, a metropolis in southern China, in an interview with RFA.
“This autocratic country strengthens its [political] apparatus by continuously creating [new] enemies,” said Sui.