Liu Li has been petitioning for over a decade on behalf of her father, who suffered an injury at work in 2009. As a result, she has suffered reprisals including a conviction for “disrupting social order,” incarceration at the notorious Masanjia re-education through labor camp, and most recently detention in her hometown of Shenyang, where her 19-month sentence ended on July 4. Now her local subdistrict office is demanding that she foot the bill for costs including the “stability maintenance” measures deployed against her over the years—over two million yuan (over 321,000 US dollars). Cheng Min and Li Xi detailed her case in Anti-Corruption and Clean Government Monthly (反腐廉政月刊), reposted to the website China Justice and Anti-Corruption (中国正义反腐网) on July 20:
While petitioner Liu Li was in custody at the Shenyang City No. 1 Detention Center, her sister Liu Yi requested to serve as Liu Li’s representative in court. This is how Liu Yi came across the government-issued “Statement on Stability Maintenance Costs Incurred on Behalf of Liu Li” in the course of reading her sister’s file. Liu Yi took a photo of the document.
According to the document, the Bayihongling Subdistrict Office of the Sujiatun District Government in Shenyang spent over 2,080,000 yuan between June 2009 and January 2020 on poverty-alleviation subsidies and stability-control work on behalf of Liu Li from June 2009 to January 2020. This includes 320,000 RMB in medical fees and subsidies for Liu Li and her father, Liu Shuyi, accounting for 15% of the total bill. The remaining charges are for funds that were earmarked for stability maintenance.
“We told them in court that we haven’t seen any of these stability maintenance fees,” Liu Yi explained. “Our family hasn’t gotten one fen of my father’s 190,000-yuan subsidy owed by the subdistrict. And there’s a sum of 46,112 yuan that we also haven’t gotten. The judge just brushed that aside and didn’t even question the public prosecutor about it. This document, included in the written verdict, proves how the Bayihongling Subdistrict Office treated Liu Li.” [Chinese]
In a WeChat post that has since been censored, user @天涯笔客 argues that this is just the “tip of the iceberg” of a stressed “stability maintenance” system that is costing local governments and leaving the aggrieved out to dry:
In the past few years, petitioning and government stability maintenance have basically become a thing. It’s also the most headache-inducing problem for local governments.
And this conflict has, insidiously, pitted petitioners against local governments.
Of course rights defense costs money, but the manpower, resources, and finances required for stability maintenance add up to an astronomical sum.
Why should the “common people” be responsible for stability maintenance? Why doesn’t the government take care of these problems, instead of “taking care” of the petitioners who draw attention to these problems? This is a contradiction in and of itself. Is it really necessary to lose sleep over a few people going to Beijing for answers?
Are petitioners really that scary?
While taking one’s grievances with local government to the capital is a tradition dating back to the imperial era, the Party-state is preoccupied with the suppression of petitioners, the result of consolidation of the nationwide security apparatus and the “backfiring” of the consultative mechanism.