China's quake cover-up

Families seeking justice for child victims are being intimidated by the state, alleges Amnesty

Almost one year on from the Sichuan earthquake, Amnesty International has called on the Chinese government to stop intimidating parents and relatives of the child victims, who face harassment and arrest as they seek justice for the dead and injured.

The timing of the quake on 12 May 2008 was particularly harsh for the province's children – it struck at 2.28pm, when most students were in class. Many of the younger pupils were having a nap before resuming lessons.

The number of children who perished has never been released officially, but some estimates put it at around 10,000 – out of a death toll of 80,000. More than 8,000 families lost their only child in the disaster, with angry parents blaming shoddy building – or "tofu construction" – for their loss.

Despite an initial openness in allowing foreign media to witness the aftermath of the quake, when public anger in China rose over badly built schoolhouses, the shutdown was swift and accusations of corruption were met with a stony silence.

The Amnesty report, entitled "Justice Denied: Harassment of Sichuan earthquake survivors and activists", outlines how officials in the province detained parents and relatives for up to three weeks for simply trying to get anwers about how their children died. Some were held repeatedly and the youngest detainee was only eight years old. "By unlawfully locking up parents of children who died, the government is creating more misery for people who have said in some cases they lost everything in the Sichuan earthquake," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Deputy Programme Director. "The Chinese government must stop harassing survivors who are trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives."

At one of the worst-affected schools, Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, the classroom building collapsed, but nearby apartments and offices remained standing. Hundreds of schoolchildren died. Within weeks, it was ringed with a high security fence and patrolled by public security officers, who were quick to stop any efforts to film or report near the area. Locals were unwilling to talk, fearful of retribution.

Parents bringing signed petitions to local court offices were often harassed and jailed. Some outsiders who accompanied the victims' families were ejected from the court buildings, before police raided their vehicles and confiscated equipment that might contain evidence.

The Amnesty report details how parents have been placed under surveillance to stop them from pursuing their cases and some activists who offered assistance to families are facing politically motivated trials on charges of endangering state security, a charge normally levelled at dissidents. One such activist is Huang Qi, who was held incommunicado for 100 days before being allowed to meet a lawyer. Detained since September last year, his trial has been postponed and he remains locked up without access to his family.

The report also draws attention to a directive issued by the provincial court in Sichuan, which bans all lower courts from accepting cases deemed sensitive. The government introduced measures to try to contain any dissent arising from the aftermath of the earthquake. Now, as China's economy slows, the government is even more keen to keep a lid on any contentious issues which it feels might lead to social unrest. Beijing has also accused foreign governments and human rights groups of meddling in its internal affairs.

Parents were given a lump sum and 100 yuan each (£11) per month in supplementary benefits and sent messages of support to reduce the political fallout over shabby building standards and poor supervision of school construction.

The family planning commission in Chengdu City set up a special programme to support those parents whose only child was killed or badly injured in the quake.

But many of the parents are looking for something more.

"I want to seek justice for the dead students," said a father quoted in the Amnesty report. He lost a 15-year-old at Beichuan Middle School. "Corruption is rampant in China," he added. "The children were still so innocent and suddenly they passed away.

"Some of their bodies are still buried under the rubble and we will never find them. That's why it is so heartbreaking for many parents.

"Except the school building, other buildings in Beichuan county did not collapse during the earthquake. What kind of earthquake was this?"

My fight for justice: One father's tale

The middle-aged father cannot be identified because he is worried about the consequences, worried about penalties worse than arrest.

His daughter died at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, when the earthquake hit Sichuan last May.

She was 18 but was still at the Middle School, in a class with mostly younger students. She had had to delay her studies at various intervals because her parents were poor and needed her to stay and work the land.

"The government has said that we can have a second child, and a lot of people in the village are pregnant, but many are having miscarriages," her grieving father said.

"I would say about 60 per cent are having miscarriages. My wife had a miscarriage after three months, some people are losing the baby after five months. Our children were teenagers, we are too old to become parents again."

Last week he came to Beijing to deliver a petition to the office of the State Council, or China's cabinet. He said he had already received several threatening phone calls. The callers don't say who they are, but their message is clear: leave well alone if you know what's good for you.

But the Sichuan father said he was ready to be picked up by police if that was what it took to get justice for his dead daughter.

"I received 80,000 yuan (£8,500) in compensation. But I want a thorough investigation," he said. "I don't care if they arrest me. Let them arrest me. I've lost my child, I don't care what they do.

"The central government has good policies, but they don't work because of the local government. The local government takes our land without permission and they do all kinds of bad things. So how can we expect them to look after us after something like this?" he said.

"We are taking our message to the State Council, because they will understand. What is the address of the State Council, please? I don't know it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all