Petitioning in the People’s Republic of China, also known as letters and calls, in Chinese as xìnfǎng(信访); or shàngfǎng(上访), is the administrative system for hearing complaints and grievances from individuals. It’s a form of extrajudicial action that can trace its origins to the imperial days. When a petitioner feels that his problem cannot be solved by the local legal authorities, he will appeal to the higher authorities for help. It’s generally taken as a way to lodge complaints against corrupt government officials or corrupt governmental process to higher authorities.
“Laogai” (Re-education through labor) is one form of correction for people who have been arrested in China. It’s generally applied to people with minor crimes like petty theft. Unlike other forms of corrections, the re-education through labor sentences are issued by police, rather than through the judicial system.
Recently a news with these two key words “Laogai” and “Shangfang” is catching the Chinese people’s attention: 3 women were sent to laogai, the charge is “dodging bus fare on their way to Shangfang in Beiijing one year ago”.
On July 7th, 2010, Wu Chandi was taking a walk with her husband and her grandson when all of a sudden they were surrounded by undercover police.
Wu recalled tha the police were not in their uniforms and didn’t display their badges. She had no idea that they were police, she even dialed 110 for help because of that. Later she was taken to the local police station for interrogation. And it was on the same night the local police station issued the administrative punishment decision of 9 days detention for Wu.
The reason, they said, is “On June 29th, 2009, Wu Chandi with Zhu Yumei, Sun Hongkang and other 7 Changzhou residents refused to buy the bus ticket in Beijing Shunwu district. They had caused the bus unable to operate for nearly one hour.”
On the second day of Wu’s detention, the local police station revoked the detention decision and replaced it with one-year “Laogai” (Re-education through labor). She was then realized that she was not the only one caught for dodging a 1 yuan bus ticket one year ago. 114 days and 289 days after the Shangfang, Lu Juhua and Zhu Yumei, who was with Wu one year ago in their Shangfang to the Beijing central government, were also arrested respectively. Wu said, “It’s like somebody slaps your face and then seals your lips, you couldn’t even speak a word of complaint.”
The 3 women filed a lawsuit against the local Laogai department for illegal detention but lost in both trials.
Wu Changdi, Lu Juhua, Zhu Yumei(left to right), holding one yuan in their hand to protest in front of the Changzhou Intermediate People’s Court.
Though they lost the case, they never understood why the police came to arrest them after one year and for a one yuan bus ticket, whether they’re guilty or not, they have to laogai for one year. They also protested that the evidence against them is not strong at all.
Many legal experts shared the same doubtful attitude toward this case. For example, fare evasion belong to civil dispute, and only when it is so severe that it disturbs the order of public transportation can be taken as “illegal” and even for that, the sentence is only a few hundred yuan fine or a less-than-10-day detention.
In this case, the No.14 bus driver Cui Lin is the only witness. Ironically, the two police who handled the incident one year ago in Beijing failed to recognize them. “Why would a bus driver who deals with so many passengers still recognize them and the police who handled the case did not?” questioned Lu’s lawyer.
And as to other evidence like the security camera on the bus, the bus company said, “It does not record; it’s only for the bus driver to watch the passengers getting on and off. So there’s no record.” Wu insisted she already paid the fare with the traffic card which she still kept. Therefore she insisted the police to check the log but they refused her, saying “the traffic card log has been deleted after this long time.”
The 3 women were not the only people the driver claimed to recognize. Sun Hongkang was also recognized by Cui but he wasn’t arrested, the reason he said, is “because I didn’t go to Beijing to Shangfang anymore.” Though the driver Cui Lin is the only witness and his word is the only evidence, he didn’t appear in court as a witness. The court said considering the fact that he lives too far away and the inconvenience of traffic, he can hand in a written testimony. In fact Cui disappeared after being inquired by the Changzhou police. He quit his job and moved his home. When Wu’s lawyer texted him, he replied, “I’ve forgot everything, please leave me in peace and don’t disturb my life anymore.”