Activists, Journalists Ask NPC for Transparency in Sichuan Earthquake Investigation

For China Media Project, Qian Gang writes about Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments to the NPC meetings advocating public and media supervision of authorities, in which Wen stated, “We must let the people criticize the government and monitor the government, giving full play to the supervisory role of news and public opinion, so that power is exercised in the full light of transparency!”:

As I watched coverage of the NPC on Chinese television, and as I heard Premier Wen speaking in determined tones about the importance of supervision by public opinion, or yulun jiandu (舆论监督) – a term that encompasses the notion of power monitoring by the press and the public – I thought first of Tan Zuoren in his jail cell.

…Delegates to the NPC and CPPCC, if you have read the draft of Tan Zuoren’s research report, and if you have seen the documentaries made by Professor Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) and others, then you will see beyond any shadow of a doubt that the problem of shoddy construction in the earthquake zone was very real.

You will also no doubt recall that on May 16, just days after the quake, People’s Daily Online invited officials from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Housing to speak with Internet users, and these officials said that “if indeed shoddy construction was a factor in school collapses, this will be strictly investigated and handled with zero tolerance.”

More than one year later, the official in charge of Sichuan’s provincial housing authority maintains that “there were no cases of collapse in the earthquake attributable to construction quality issues.”

Over the issue of school collapses in the Sichuan quake, the people have been denied the right to monitor the government, to criticize the government. The parents of the students who were lost are left with nothing but there own grief. And an intellectual who plead for the most basic justice for the people has been locked away.

What are Tan Zuoren’s crimes? He loves his nation. He loves his home. He cares for the facts. He speaks with principle. It is just as Professor Cui Weiping has said: “This kind of person is the backbone of our people . . . the foundation stone for the rebuilding of our moral fiber and conscience, and the starting point for the rebuilding of our spirit. To hold such a man prisoner is to imprison the conscience of our people!”

Read more about Tan Zuoren via CDT.

Also related, artist/activist Ai Weiwei and others sent open letters to all the delegates to this year’s NPC meetings calling for transparency in the handling of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Global Times reports:

This letter says that last year the so-called “citizen investigators” had sent 113 letters to government departments at all levels, requesting the disclosure of information. But “none of the departments directly answered a single question raised by us,” the new letter said.

Eighty-four departments responded to last year’s “citizens’ investigation.” But all of them said the group should look for the information online, refusing to offer any other details, saying it concerns state or business secrets. Tuesday’s letter said the other 27 departments did not respond to last year’s letters, violating the regulations on the disclosure of government information, which require them to reply within seven business days.

…Ai and some volunteers also posted the letter on a popular social micro-blog run by Sina.com Wednesday morning. But the accounts containing extracts of the letter were suspended, and more than 70 accounts containing the char-acters Ai or Wei were “killed” by the webmaster Wednesday, Ai told the Global Times.

A customer service employee at Sina.com said the reason for the suspension is the posts in those accounts contain sensitive material.

Read more about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the collapse of schools, via CDT.