I first came to Beijing from my home town in Jilin province in the north-east of China seven years ago. I had seen a woman in my village beaten in the street by a man one evening. Later the case went to a local court, where I was a witness. The fight was over land rights. When it reached the court, we learned that the man whom I had seen hitting the woman was a relative of a court official, and the case was dropped.
I knew that cases could be appealed in the highest court in the land, so I decided to travel to Beijing and lodge a complaint against local officials. It is the Chinese people’s ancient right to have their complaints of injustice heard.
But shortly after arriving in Beijing I was arrested by plain-clothes police officers. They manhandled me off the streets and dragged me into a dark, cold room, where I was struck and forced to my knees. They said they were teaching me a lesson for trying to file a complaint. I couldn’t understand it at first. I believed that in Beijing I would find the justice that corruption in my province prevented. But instead I was being punished.
I was detained in a yard behind a court. When I was released I was told never to return to Beijing to complain. But with every blow my thirst for justice had grown, not diminished. I visited 10 justice departments in Beijing, but each turned me away. I was now seeking justice for myself as well as redress for the corruption in my home town.
Many months passed and I continued to stay in Beijing petitioning. I was convinced that I would find someone who would listen to my complaint. One morning I left my apartment on the outskirts of the city and walked to a ministry building. At the front of the office stood a flagpole where every morning guards raised the flag. I managed to attach my petition to the Chinese flag. Guards immediately flew towards me and grabbed me. I was eventually returned to my home town, where I was detained for two weeks. They said I had disturbed public order.
Then I was sent to a high-security police station. Two policemen dragged me into a laundry room, where they sat me on a chair, tied my legs together and took turns prodding me with an electric baton, smacking my face, my head, my body. I tried to bash my head against the wall, hoping to knock myself out to stop the pain, but they put a helmet on my head to keep me awake.
Then I was forced to sign a confession. I remember during the electric torture, while I was falling in and out of consciousness, one guard told me he had no choice. They were just doing their jobs, just following orders. I never understood my crime. I never knew if it was speaking out against the official, or if it was taking the complaints to Beijing.
In 2005, I went back to Beijing, for international human rights day. This time I was going not to petition against corruption but to protest against human rights abuses. On my way to Tiananmen Square I was arrested by plain-clothes police who took me to a police station where they struck me with batons. Soon after, I was sentenced without trial to two years in a women’s rehabilitation camp, estranged from my family and friends, who were told I was a criminal.
Every week in Beijing there are protests, organised by petitioners who come to the city hoping to right the wrongs committed by local leaders. Instead, they are silenced, imprisoned and told never to return. Now the protests are against the party, the same party we believed would bring justice against corruption in our home towns. I came to Beijing believing the party would address corruption – it is our right to petition. Instead I’ve seen the real face of the party. China is afraid of its own citizens.