Chinese customs officials have confiscated petitions signed by more than 24,000 people in Hong Kong and 34 countries urging release of Chinese political prisoners, a group of Hong Kong activists said here Wednesday.
The petitions were circulated by various organizations as part of an international campaign for the release of eight well-known pro-democracy activists, most of them imprisoned for nearly a decade, and other less famous prisoners. Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the arrest of Wei Jingsheng, the most famous of the prisoners.
The group of five Hong Kong activists told a news conference that the documents were seized Tuesday when they arrived in China. They had hoped to present the petitions to the current session of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, which has authority to grant amnesty.
Wang Hanbin, vice chairman of the congress, appeared to rule out any amnesty for prisoners this year. The congress, which is in the middle of a 16-day annual session, “is not considering giving nor does it think it necessary to offer special pardons to prisoners on this occasion,” Wang said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
However, he said that although he did not have enough information to comment on the incident involving the Hong Kong group, Chinese citizens and Hong Kong residents do have the legal right to submit petitions to the congress.
A letter-writing campaign seeking amnesty for Wei and other prisoners was launched early this year by intellectuals in China. In recent weeks, it has drawn growing support from ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States and other countries.
Chinese officials have criticized foreign support for the campaign as interference in China’s internal affairs. But Beijing cannot dismiss the concerns of Hong Kong residents in the same sweeping fashion. The British colony is to revert to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 under the formula of “one country, two systems,” and Beijing is trying to avoid undermining confidence in its future.
Implications for Hong Kong
“In Hong Kong, we find quite a spontaneous response to this signature movement,” said Lau Kin-chi, a college lecturer and political activist in Hong Kong. “People have come to see that without a democratic China, there cannot be a democratic future for Hong Kong. So now people are more concerned for promotion of democracy in China.”
A Chinese customs official told reporters Wednesday that the petitions were seized along with a quantity of magazines because the group was carrying “an unreasonable amount of printed matter into China” that was not for members’ personal use.
“You can’t say 2,000 pieces of paper is a reasonable amount,” said Huang Rufeng, deputy director of the customs department in Tianjin, a coastal city east of Beijing where the group entered China.
Emily Lau, another member of the Hong Kong group, said they still hoped the petitions would reach the National People’s Congress. On Wednesday, the group delivered to the congress mail room a letter in which they suggested that legislative officials instruct customs officials to turn the petitions over to the congress.
Meanwhile, in the congress’ main business of the day, delegates heard officials give statistics on crime and punishment during 1988.
Ren Jianxin, president of the Supreme People’s Court, announced that 368,790 people were sentenced last year. Murder cases were up 9%, robbery cases were up 43% and cases of serious larceny were up 64%, he said.
Liu Fuzhi, head of the central government’s office in charge of prosecutions, said there were 40,450 cases of infringement of people’s rights by government officials or law enforcement officers. This included 4,700 cases in which police were guilty of offenses such as frame-ups, extorting confessions through torture or unlawful detentions, he said. Of these cases, he said, 227 led to disability or death.