A WeChat post last week from the public account XiaoJingZhiJia (@小警之家, which bills itself as “the most attentive police new media portal focused on the working lives of grassroots unit police officers”) offered readers a lengthy warning on the penalties that could result from improper attempts to petition government bodies. China’s system for airing grievances against government officials and bodies, overseen by the State Bureau for Letters and Visits (国家信访局) and various local bureaus, has long been criticized for inefficiency and accused of being largely ineffective, while many petitioners have been forcibly intercepted, detained, mistreated, and returned to their homes. The warning posted by XiaoJingZhiJia, which has since been removed from WeChat but is available via FreeWeChat and CDT Chinese, spells out ten case studies where “extreme” or “abnormal” petitioning led to conviction and jail time, and warns that any person who dares overstep the red tape of the official system could be jeopardizing the future of their career and their children:
Going over the heads of immediate leadership to get an illegal petition meeting, extreme petitioning of higher authorities, pestering or being bothersome to get a petition meeting, and stirring up trouble to get a petition meeting
Assembling illegal groups, and related criminal offenses, can affect children and other immediate family. It could affect their ability to sit entrance exams, join the CCP, enlist in the military, or sign up for the Civil Service Employment Exam.
With the continual development and refinement of municipal and personal integrity systems, things like honesty, moral conduct, ethical self-cultivation, and behavior patterns are becoming important parts of our lives. Nowadays, criminal records can get synchronized to integrity reporting systems, municipal or personal. Individual criminal offenses can also affect children and other immediate family, in their ability to sit entrance exams, join the CCP, enlist in the military, sign up for the Civil Service Employment Exam, or find employment. Especially dangerous in this regard are: Going over the heads of immediate leadership to get an illegal petition meeting, extreme petitioning of higher authorities, pestering or being bothersome to get a petition meeting, stirring up trouble to get a petition meeting, stirring up trouble through illegal assembly, gathering for illegal demonstrations or protests, obstructing government administration, gathering a crowd to disturb public order, gathering a crowd to assault government offices or state organs, extortion, blackmailing, racketeering, framing or leveling false charges, deliberately damaging property, endangering public security, gathering a crowd to disturb public places, and gathering a crowd to disturb orderly traffic. Even a glancing brush with the law can affect close relatives such as children. More specifically as follows:
Individual criminal activity can impact next-of-kin such as children and immediate dependents, in terms of recruitment choice in government institutions, military enlistment, and the political screening process for joining the CCP.
Political screenings chiefly consist of Party theory, ideological guidelines, and guiding principles. Attitude toward policy is screened. Political history is looked at, as well as behavior in significant political struggles. Disciplined observance of law is valued, as is abiding by proper societal behavior. The political situations of immediate family and close social relations are screened.
If either parent engages in criminal activity, children and next-of-kin cannot be enlisted as politically-qualified soldiers. For example, these children couldn’t be bodyguards of senior CCP officials, soldiers stationed in Hong Kong, etc. They could still be common soldiers in principle. However, due to a principle of only recruiting the best, quota limits, and the large number of physically-qualified candidates, children of “problem parents” are likely to be rejected.
When it comes to applying for government agency and public sector jobs, similar effects exist. Signing up to test for category-one public security functionary, if any member of one’s close relatives, such as parents or uncles, is serving a sentence, political screening would surely lead to disqualification. Although other institutions don’t have explicit provisions for not hiring these sorts of applicants as permanent employees, in practice such screening definitely happens, owing to the principle of similarly qualified candidates [without the problem] will be selected over these applicants.
The 100th provision of 2015 PRC Criminal Law: “According to the law, convicted criminals must disclose their past to pertinent departments when enlisting in the military or obtaining employment. Criminal records may not be concealed.” This is a criminal history report system established by criminal law. Additionally, in numerous legal statutes, layers of professional and behavioral restrictions are established regarding criminal records and hiring. Those with criminal records must not be hired for the following professions: 1. Civil servant, 2. Judge, 3. Clerk of the People’s Court, 4. People’s juror, 5. Public prosecutor, 6. People’s supervisor, 7. Police officer, 8. Lawyer, 9. Basic level legal service staff, 10. Notary public, 11. Expert witness, 12. Diplomatic agent, 13. Communications and Transportation Administration law enforcement staff, 14. Administrative law enforcement staff, 15. Teacher, 16. Kindergarten staff, 17. Professional doctor, 18. Broadcast television editor, journalist, or broadcast announcer host, 19. Accountant, 20. Certified public accountant, 21. Futures contract professional, 22. Securities company risk management personnel, 23. Corporate bankruptcy supervisor, 24. Insurance actuary, 25. Insurance brokerage institution senior manager, 26. Insurance market employee, 27. Auction master, 28. Pawnshop industry employee, 29. Direct marketing staff, 30. Patent agent, 31. Negotiable securities employee, 32. Negotiable securities, futures investment consultant, 33. Tour guide, 34. Company board director, supervisor, or manager, 35. Foundation chairman, vice-chairman, or secretary-general, 36. Civilian-use safeguard goods manufacturer, seller, buyer, transporter, or demolitions expert, 37. Registered construction master, 38. Registered safety engineer, 39. Registered surveyor, 40. Ministry of Public Security safety technology products manufacturer or seller, 41. Weather modification personnel, 42. Lockset repair manager, 43. Special industry and public places security personnel, 44. Security guard, 45. Real estate intermediary, 46. Land appraiser, 47. Manufacturing unit leader, 48. Passport issuance rejection officer.
Citizens have the right to petition, and to protect that legitimate right and interest one must express a reasonable appeal in accordance with law. One’s appeal must receive rational consideration. It must be determined whether the petition is reasonable and legal. The question of its quality must be resolved. Troublemaking, deliberate provocation, extreme petitioning, annoying visits, and stirring up trouble will not lead to a solution, but rather result in legal consequences. As for justified petitions, one should strive to advocate for one’s rights and interests through the proper channels.
Unsuitable petitions may involve “ten sins”:
- The crime of disorderly behavior
Legal case: Saiwu town, Xinghe county, Inner Mongolia. 75-year-old villager Guo petitioned through letters and visits, and after the legal process came to an end, came to Tiananmen Gate and Zhongnanhai in Beijing many times to illegally petition. Guo made bothersome visits, and seriously disturbed public order. The Xinghe county police department, according to the Disorderly Behavior law of the PRC, detained Guo. A few days ago, the Xinghe county prosecutor’s office, in accordance with the Disorderly Behavior law, lawfully arrested Guo. The Xinghe County Court believes Guo violated petition regulations. The aforementioned behavior constituted disorderly behavior. Judgement will be rendered in a few days.
Interpretation: Disorderly behavior is the illegal petitioner’s most likely criminal charge. Voluntary coming to blows, verbal abuse, intimidation, pursuit, and intercepting visitors or other people are manifestations of disorderly behavior. Additionally, forcibly taking, damaging, or occupying public property qualify. These are serious circumstances. Heckling or creating a disturbance in public places can also qualify, as can causing serious disorder in public places.
Warning: When petitioners lodge appeals with higher authorities, they must avoid the above-mentioned behaviors. Even repeatedly going to the Zhongnanhai in Beijing, Tiananmen Gate, and other such important places constitutes abnormal petitioning. In accordance with pertinent public security agency regulations, petitioners are warned of the penalty for continued illegal petitioning, influencing normal social order, and disorderly behavior. In less serious cases, this crime can result in five years or less in prison. The maximum sentence is 10 years.
- The crime of illegal assembly, marching, or demonstration
Legal case: Ziyuan county, Guilin city, Guangxi province. Su, because their elder sister was injured in a hospital, tried to get government attention without filing the proper application. Su mobilized a hundred or more villagers to come to the seat of county government, demanding to be heard, showing banners and slogans. The director of the country police department led officers to the scene to maintain order, and to dissuade the demonstrators with a show of force. The demonstrators resisted, chasing and beating civil police and security guards, seriously undermining social order, and having a negative effect on the community. The Court, according to the law against unlawful assembly, marching, or demonstration, sentenced Su and others to short criminal detention, with a suspended sentence and probation.
Interpretation: The crime of illegal assembly, marching, or demonstration involves holding an assembly, march, or demonstration, without regard to legal provisions or approvals, or permitted time and place, and without regard to ideological guidelines. This crime also covers refusing to comply with orders to disband, and seriously undermining social order. Assembly is defined as gathering in outdoor public places, expressing opinions, and voicing demands. Marching is defined as advancing in formation on a public road, in outdoor public places, and collectively voicing demands. Demonstration is defined as assembling in outdoor public places, or on public roads, to march, conduct sit-ins, express demands, protest, or support a cause collectively.
Warning: Many petitioners may have no intention to assemble, march, or demonstrate illegally. They may not know their behavior can already be classified as illegal assembly, marching, or demonstration. Although these activities are the constitutionally bestowed rights of every citizen, they must be done according to the conduct standards and arrangements of public security bureaus and departments. Otherwise, the activities are illegal, and participants may suffer the legal consequences. For this crime, the maximum sentence is five years in prison.
- The crime of obstructing government administration
Legal case: Shaoyang city, Hunan province. Retiree Liu, because his former work unit was behind in paying his wages, repeatedly went to the Shaoyang municipal committee, and to Zhongnanhai in Beijing, to petition. While petitioning, Liu became violent, threatened to harm government employees who were lawfully carrying out their duties. This created a serious negative effect. The Court found Liu guilty of obstructing government administration, and sentenced Liu to one year in prison.
Interpretation: The crime of obstructing government administration is defined as using violence or threats to hinder government employees, or to obstruct National People’s Congress deputies from lawfully carrying out their duties, or deliberately obstructing national security agencies, or obstructing public security bureaus in lawfully carrying out their duties. Even without violence, these actions cause grave consequences. Violent attacks against police officers lawfully carrying out their duties are severely punished.
Warning: In the process of petitioning higher authorities, clashes readily arise between petitioners and those receiving the petitions. This very likely constitutes the crime of obstructing government administration. Petitioners must show restraint and self-control. The most severe sentence for this crime is three years in prison. For causing serious injury or death, penalties are more severe, according to the crime of deliberate injury or the crime of intentional homicide.
- The crime of gathering a crowd to disturb the social order
Legal case: Shangqiu city, Henan province. A relative of a certain Zheng, while petitioning in Beijing, died of cerebral hemorrhage that failed to respond to medical attention. Zheng ganged up with one Ma, and others, to put pressure on local government, and make illegal demands. They twice mustered a crowd and made trouble at Fuyou Street in Beijing, causing a negative effect that seriously influenced the operations of level-two government. Zheng was found guilty of gathering a crowd to disturb social order, and given a three-year suspended sentence with probation.
Public prosecutor’s statement: The crime of gathering a crowd to disturb the social order involves gathering a crowd to disturb the social order, preventing progress of work, manufacturing, business, teaching, scientific research, medical treatment, surgery, or actions causing serious loss or damage. Gathering a crowd is defined as assembling more than three people.
Warning: As far as possible, don’t assemble a crowd or organize for petitioning. When petitioning, avoid affecting normal social order to the best of your ability. In day-to-day reality, crowds assemble at the front doors of government institutions, hospitals, and similar places, to cause trouble while petitioning. If this affects normal work or medical treatment, reaching a specified extent, it can constitute a crime. This crime’s maximum sentence, when it comes to the ringleaders and active participants, is seven years imprisonment.
- The crime of gathering a crowd to attack state organs
Legal case: Leye county in Baise, Guangxi province. One Zhang thought their little brother’s accidental death was caused by a quality issue with a government construction drainage ditch. When sufficient compensation from the government failed to happen, Zhang and two relatives assembled more than 100 people. They took the little brother’s body to a government office building and left it inside. County Party committee and government personnel were unable to proceed with their work. For gathering a crowd to attack government offices, the Court sentenced Zhang and four other defendants to five years in prison.
Interpretation: The crime of gathering a crowd to attack state organs involves the activities of organizing, planning, directing, or active participation in gathering a crowd, and forced entry into government offices, resulting in obstruction of government work, or actions causing serious material damage, or negative political or societal effects.
Warning: This crime is worse than gathering a crowd to disturb the social order. The consequences are more serious, restricted to government offices. This primarily involves gathering a crowd to forcibly charge and break through the guarded entrance of a government office, or to surround a seat of government. The crime also covers throwing rocks or other objects, surprise attacks or raids, cutting off electricity or water supplies, cutting communications lines, blocking thoroughfares or passageways, preventing state workers from entering or leaving, forcibly occupying offices or meeting rooms, verbal abuse, chasing and beating workers, damaging public property, destroying or throwing away official documents or data materials, forcible entry or occupation of work areas and refusal to withdraw, etc. For the ringleaders and active participants, the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison.
- The crime of gathering a crowd to disturb public places or orderly traffic
Legal case: A certain Duan discussed with others putting pressure on the government, to resolve a management question regarding their operation of passenger minibuses, which was soon to come due. They organized more than fifty minibus drivers, and parked in Jinqiao south station for a transportation strike. This resulted in a serious disturbance of order in the station. Many travelers were held up. Public order and orderly traffic were seriously affected. For gathering a crowd to disturb public places or orderly traffic, the Court sentenced Duan to 10 months in prison.
Interpretation: The crime of gathering a crowd to disturb public places or orderly traffic involves gathering a crowd to disturb the order of train stations, bus stops, docks, civilian air terminals, malls and other commercial centers, parks, cinemas, exhibitions, stadiums, or other public places. Gathering a crowd to block or disrupt traffic can result in serious circumstances, as can resisting or obstructing state administrators’ lawful execution of duties.
Warning: This crime is different than gathering a crowd to disturb public order, because it happens at train stations, bus stops, docks, civilian air terminals, malls and other commercial centers, parks, and other such public places, destroying public traffic order. The former crime, gathering a crowd to disturb public order, is disrupting some organization’s work, manufacturing, teaching, medical treatment, etc. When petitioning higher authorities, do your utmost to avoid rail stations, docks, and such places. Merely gathering a crowd in such places, it will be hard to avoid affecting traffic, and a crime could easily result. This crime’s maximum sentence is five years in prison.
- The crime of extortion or blackmail
Legal case: Jilin province. A certain Jing, whose intentional injury conviction was reinvestigated and commuted to not guilty, received 80,000 RMB in state compensation. Jing continued petitioning for more, demanding 830,000 to 1,060,000 RMB. Jing’s abnormal petitioning took the form of coercion and threats toward Party and government organizations, demanding money from these places of employment and staff members. The Court maintained that because Jing petitioned with threats, with intent to extort, Jing was guilty of extortion or blackmail. Jing was sentenced to 10 years.
Interpretation: The crime of extortion or blackmail involves intent, using threats or coercion, and forcibly demanding public or private money or goods. Threatening is defined as using fierce or harmful communication to compel the victim to hand over money or goods. Whether or not the threat is legitimate doesn’t matter. The manner of the threat doesn’t matter. If it causes fear in the victim, it is a crime. The blackmailing method involves using the victim’s information against them, or creating some pretext, to compel them to hand over money or goods.
Warning: Many unreasonable, troublesome petitioners have arisen in recent years. They go to the nation’s capital to illegally petition with threats, putting pressure on pertinent government departments, and demanding transportation costs, room and board, living expenses, and other such unreasonable demands. This qualifies as the crime of extortion or blackmail. Based on the amount extorted, the sentence can vary from three years or less, to 10 years or more.
- The crime of framing, falsely accusing, or entrapping
Legal case: Weihai city, Shandong province. The Wei brothers were dissatisfied with the verdict of a prosecutor’s office investigation of favoritism among public security officials. With no facts to support their case, the brothers trumped up evidence that Chief Prosecutor Yuan covered up for one Su, for paying and receiving bribes. The brothers carried out petition visits and sent petition letters to all levels of the prosecutor’s office. They denounced and indicted the National People’s Congress and similar institutions, creating a negative situation. The Court sentenced the Wei brothers for the crime of framing, falsely accusing, or entrapping.
Interpretation: The crime of framing, falsely accusing, or entrapping involves fabricating criminal evidence, or writing false reports, with the intent of getting others criminally investigated, a serious situation. Fabricating is defined as making something from nothing, such as fictional crime facts. False accusation is defined as fabricating crime facts and lodging accusations toward pertinent departments, intending to cause the falsely accused to be subjected to criminal investigation, and to be prosecuted, and brought to trial, etc.
Attention: The constitution entrusts citizens with the right to accuse or report neglectful or illegal conduct of state workers, and to complain to pertinent state organs. But one must not fabricate or distort the facts, or bring false charges, or frame. When petitioning, one must avoid revenge mentality, and not fabricate crime facts, falsely accuse, or frame others in response to demands not being met. Otherwise, one is committing a crime, the maximum sentence for which is 10 years in prison.
- The crime of deliberately damaging property
Legal case: Chuzhou city, Lai’an county, Anhui province. One Zheng’s old house site was illegally occupied and used by a developer. Zheng reported this to pertinent departments, which determined that since the plot had already been turned into agricultural land, Zheng’s complaint would not be processed. Zheng came to the seat of county government 13 times to petition. During this process, Zheng’s behavior grew extreme. Zheng smashed window glass and a motor-driven gate, and other facilities, deliberately damaging public property. This created a negative influence at the place. The Court decided Zheng’s behavior constituted the crime of deliberately damaging property, and sentenced Zheng to one year in prison.
Interpretation: The crime of deliberately damaging property involves deliberately destroying or damaging public property, to a comparatively large degree, or in other serious circumstances. If the damages are 5000 RMB or more, or the property is damaged three times or more, or three or more people are gathered to openly damage the property, the crime has been committed.
Attention: Petitioners, in order to vent anger or express dissatisfaction, can end up damaging public property. They may not think the property is worth much. This is a mistake. If three or more people openly damage property, there is no damage amount requirement, and a crime has been committed. This crime, depending on the amount of damage and other circumstances, can have a sentence of up to seven years.
- The crime of endangering public safety
Legal case: Xianning city, Tongshan county, Hubei province. One Ke went to Beijing to petition. At dusk, Ke drove at high speed with headlights off, turning at random, running red lights, and engaging in other dangerous driving behavior, trying to shake off police and workers attempting to keep the peace, who were following. When police clearly maneuvered to intercept, Ke drove on. The Court found Ke guilty of endangering public safety, however harmlessly, and sentenced Ke to five years in prison.
Interpretation: Endangering public safety is defined as using arson, flooding, explosion, or a variety of unusual and dangerous methods to expose the public to dangerous substances, to endanger public security. Several commonly-seen methods are illegitimately set up electrical networks, driving collisions, and propagating disease.
Attention: This crime is a conduct violation. It only needs to be attempted to qualify as a crime. No negative outcome is necessary. If a judicial officer determines there was sufficient danger to an unspecified number of people, to health, or to major public or private property, they can convict. Thus, when petitioning, by no means adopt extreme behaviors. You may inadvertently endanger public safety. Any potential menace to public safety resulting from your actions can qualify as a crime. This crime, if resulting in serious consequences, can result in the death penalty
It is thus clear that these days, one’s criminal record can seriously affect one’s place in society. Therefore, the editor here is warning everyone: do not commit crimes. Be disciplined in abiding by the law, like a good citizen! [Chinese]
Translation by Jesse.