On June 23, the 58-year old Chen Yulian, wife of a Hubei provincial politics and law committee official, was mistaken for “a petitioner” and was badly beaten by plain-clothes policemen when she walked to the gate of the provincial party committee’s office buildings… The head of the local public securities bureau apologized to her stating, “It was a mistake; a complete mistake. We were not aware that we had beaten the wife of an important official.”
Shanghaiist has more details about the incident:
Chen Yulian, who is still in the hospital from her injuries a month ago, confirmed that police had apologized to her afterwards, saying they hadn’t known she was the wife of such an important official. “An official’s wife you can’t hit,” she spit out, “but a commoner you can?”
The original article appeared in forum posts all over the net. Chen Yulian had been going up to the offices to meet her husband, and was at the gate making a call on her cellphone when, lal of the sudden, six plainclothed men knocked her to the ground and began hitting and kicking her. Seeing stars, Mrs. Chen yelled that she was the family of the provincial cadre and could they please stop hitting her.
She later said that the six men continued to kick her down as she struggled to get up. One time, they kicked her upper body, slamming her head against the booth railing pole. Altogether, the beating lasted roughly 16 minutes.
Neighbors who saw the beating happened rushed up to defend her, telling the men that “she is from one of the provincial leader’s families, how can you play like this?” The six men told them to butt out. As more and more people came up with the same story, the men finally told them they could get the family to come prove it.
It was only after a half an hour that a car came to take the half-delirious Mrs. Chen to a security room, where she sat guarded by two policemen. And it was only after she woke up enough to call her husband, that her identity was confirmed and she was sent to a hospital.
See also a report from China Daily.
Update: Duihua translates a piece in Southern Daily by Zhou Hucheng which argues that this case show the need for reform in the petitioning system as a whole:
First, let’s look at what public security officials told family members: “It was a mistake—a simple mistake. They didn’t recognize you and didn’t know that you were the wife of such a high official.” A person at the scene asked them in retort: “You say the beating was a mistake and it’s not allowed to beat the wife of an official. Does that mean ordinary people can be beaten?” Looking at all of the rules governing [police] work that have been made public, the law does not authorize police to beat petitioners at will. Moreover, if it is legal for those possessing public authority to beat ordinary people as they wish, this would theoretically shake the foundation of our governance. However, in real life, instances of petitioners being beaten, locked up in psychiatric facilities, or even sent to re-education through labor are too numerous to count. Again, why is this?
It is primarily because of the pressure felt by local governments over petitioning quotas. Petitioning is linked to official performance, so that if there are many petitioners it is seen as meaning local society is unstable and officials bear responsibility for ineffective governance. If, on the other hand, there are few petitioners, it will be seen as effective construction of a harmonious society. When maintaining stability becomes such an extremely important—even the most important—job, one in which the quality of the work of [dealing with] petitions is closely linked to official performance, some places have even established a one-strike policy for petitioning, where even a single case of petitioning to higher authorities will result in officials from the petitioner’s locality being penalized with a warning or removal from office. Under such circumstances, the petitioning system has become a sharp sword hanging over the heads of local government officials, for whom the slightest mishandling [of a dispute] could have an impact on their personal futures and fates.