China is taking steps to reform its decades-old civil petitioning system, including diverting cases to courts and improving ways of lodging complaints online, so that citizens’ grievances can be resolved more efficiently and social tensions alleviated.
Details of the new policy were announced at a news conference in Beijing yesterday.
Zhang Enxi, a deputy director with the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, told reporters that the government will do more to refer the kinds of complaints that can be resolved through litigation to the courts.
He said the bureau had set up an online platform to accept complaints and will work to improve its transparency, while urging local officials to be more proactive in addressing grievances.
China’s top authority for handling complaints and suggestions from the public began accepting submissions on its official website on July 1.
A nationwide online platform will be the main access for the public to petition authorities after it is completed, Zhang said.
The bureau will spare no efforts in handling the public’s reasonable appeals in an effective manner and put the protection of their legal rights and interests at the center of its work, he added.
However, he said that petitions regarding the country’s legal and judicial systems should be left for judicial remedies and would not be accepted.
Such complaints should be made and solved through judiciary agencies according to specific procedures, added Li Gao, another deputy head of the bureau, affirming that the bureau will not accept, give instructions or mediate in such cases, but will give explanations and tell petitioners to respect the authority of judicial decisions and pursue judicial solutions.
As of Monday, the bureau had received more than 130,000 online comments and complaints, with nearly 40,000 petitions settled by relevant departments, Li said.
Zhang said the bureau had received 6.04 million complaint letters and calls in the first 10 months of the year, with complaints filed above county level dropping 2.1 percent year on year.
Every year, millions of complaints are filed about what petitioners see as injustices or incompetence by their local officials, covering issues such as land expropriation, forced home demolitions and labor disputes, or the failure of local authorities to prosecute crimes.
When they fail to get satisfactory answers, the petitioners often go to Beijing to appeal directly to the central government.
If their grievances are still ignored, many camp out in Beijing in what is known as the petitioners’ village.
It is estimated that at least 100,000 petitioners from far afield would camp out in the country’s capital, with many more making short trips from home.
The petitioning system has long been criticized as ineffective, and local officials often try to prevent petitioners from going to the capital, using methods that include detaining them in illegal “black jails.”
Li told the news conference that any attempt to constrain the public from legal petitioning is prohibited, and acts to intercept, detain or take revenge on petitioners will be investigated and punished.
Li said that the central government will no longer rank local governments based on the number of petitions filed in Beijing, in the hope of deterring efforts by local officials to stymie petitioners.
Li said that in order to reduce abnormal petitions to the central government, the bureau used to calculate repeated and abnormal appeals filed by local petitioners, and made lists based on the figures to be related to the assessment of local officials.
“In February, the SBLC stopped making such lists and now reports abnormal complaints only to relevant local authorities, so as to improve petitioning work,” Li said.
The moves came after China’s top leadership said the government must innovate to improve its management so that it can better prevent and resolve social conflicts.