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
News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us