World News

China says to handle petitioners more "kindly"

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top official charged with security warned that China’s legions of petitioners should be treated ‘kindly’, the Xinhua news agency said late on Monday, warning that mishandling them could threaten social stability.

Thousands of petitioners throng Beijing at any given moment, hoping that higher authorities will resolve injustices and disputes left festering back at home.

Many are roughly rounded up and brought back home by local governments trying to prevent their complaints from triggering unwelcome intervention from Beijing.

Human Rights Watch in a report last November urged China to abolish the secretive “black jails” used to hold such aggrieved citizens. China denies the existence of these facilities.

Zhou Yongkang told local officials to resolve public complaints better, while warning that “a handful of unreasonable harassers would be dealt with in line with the law,” Xinhua said.

Problems arising from China’s uneven development means that “various social conflicts will keep growing and be reflected through petitions,” said Zhou, who oversees security issues at the top level of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Many of the petitioners’ complaints stem from land seizures, while other still seek redress for layoffs dating to massive bankruptcies in China’s state sector in the 1990s.

Earlier this month, dozens of demobilized soldiers delivered petitions seeking pensions and benefits to the Central Military Commission in Beijing, in a rare protest by a group ranked high among potentially destabilizing forces.

The secret jails often used to hold abducted petitioners become most crowded at politically sensitive times, for example during big meetings and visits, when the ruling Communist Party wants to show the country’s main cities at their most orderly, activists say.

Zhou called for “more guidance” in China’s two big international events this year, the World Expo in Shanghai and the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou.

Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Bill Tarrant