China mid­dle class in up­roar over al­leged po­lice bru­tal­ity

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Thou­sands among China’s mid­dle class are sign­ing on­line pe­ti­tions to protest the drop­ping of an al­leged po­lice bru­tal­ity case, rep­re­sent­ing a rare but con­certed dis­play of white-col­lar out­rage with Bei­jing. The sig­na­to­ries of at least two on­line pe­ti­tions or­ga­nized through univer­sity alumni net­works are in­fu­ri­ated by the Bei­jing pros­e­cu­tors’ de­ci­sion last Fri­day to drop charges against five po­lice over the death of Lei Yang, a 29-year old grad­u­ate of pres­ti­gious Ren­min Univer­sity, in po­lice cus­tody in May. The five po­lice were pre­vi­ously ac­cused by in­ves­ti­ga­tors of us­ing im­proper force and cov­er­ing up Lei’s death.

The re­sponse to the au­thor­i­ties’ han­dling of Lei’s death is the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of sim­mer­ing ur­ban dis­con­tent in China, where Com­mu­nist Party lead­ers are fac­ing higher ex­pec­ta­tions - and in­creas­ing ques­tions - from the ex­pand­ing mid­dle class over hot-but­ton is­sues rang­ing from en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion to un­fair­ness in the ju­di­ciary. “When some­thing oc­curs in so­ci­ety that is so dark, so im­pos­si­ble to ac­cept, then it’s like an in­ner fire in our bones that’s been sparked,” said Yu Li, a sig­na­tory who works in the IT sec­tor in Bei­jing.

The or­ga­niz­ers of the pe­ti­tions said they did not wish to take the protest to the street for fear of swift gov­ern­ment ret­ri­bu­tion. For the same rea­son, they spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. But the case has threat­ened to erode the le­git­i­macy of the party among an in­flu­en­tial so­cial seg­ment that’s al­ready im­pa­tient with years­long so­cial woes, in­clud­ing food safety scan­dals and wide­spread cor­rup­tion.

The pe­ti­tions, which sought a “cor­rec­tion” of the de­ci­sion to not prose­cute the of­fi­cers, have gath­ered more than 2,400 sig­na­to­ries of for­mer stu­dents of Ren­min and some of China’s other top uni­ver­si­ties. They range from grad­u­ates of 1980s chem­istry de­part­ments to stu­dents who re­ceived grad­u­ate busi­ness de­grees in the 2000s, as well as prom­i­nent aca­demics and the cur­rent CEO of a food­stuffs com­pany.

The list has ex­panded to in­clude alumni of Ts­inghua Univer­sity, Pek­ing Univer­sity, and Zhe­jiang Univer­sity and Fu­dan Univer­sity in east­ern China. Or­ga­niz­ers of the move­ment said many of the sig­na­to­ries have gath­ered in more than two dozen WeChat mes­sag­ing groups, where they were vent­ing and shar­ing le­gal analy­ses, es­says and even po­etry about Lei’s case.

As the on­line cam­paign spi­raled this week, au­thor­i­ties scram­bled to squelch dis­cus­sion. Cen­sors blocked all searches on China’s pop­u­lar mi­croblog site, Weibo, for “Lei Yang case” while pro­pa­ganda au­thor­i­ties dis­trib­uted no­tices against car­ry­ing the story in news out­lets, ac­cord­ing to China Dig­i­tal Times, an over­seas web­site that pub­lishes what are be­lieved to be of­fi­cial cen­sor­ship or­ders.

In a coun­try seem­ingly in­ured to po­lice bru­tal­ity against migrant work­ers or farm­ers, com­men­ta­tors say the Lei case has at­tracted na­tion­wide at­ten­tion pre­cisely be­cause of his white-col­lar back­ground as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist with a state-af­fil­i­ated think tank.

Zhang Wen, a well-known lib­eral Chi­nese so­cial com­men­ta­tor, said China has of­ten had cases of so­cial jus­tice that in­volved farm­ers or migrant work­ers clash­ing with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, “but be­cause of their class sta­tus, their cases do not mobilize this mass op­po­si­tion or cre­ate aware­ness.” “But Lei Yang’s case has bro­ken through ge­o­graphic or even class bar­ri­ers,” he said. “If it could hap­pen to him it could hap­pen to any of us. Any of us could be Lei Yang.”

Not lost on many in China’s ed­u­cated class is the fact that Ren­min Univer­sity which means Peo­ple’s Univer­sity - was founded by the Com­mu­nist Party in its early guer­rilla days. It’s un­usual for or­ga­nized crit­i­cism to emerge from a school that boasts a long tra­di­tion of pro­duc­ing po­lit­i­cal thinkers, econ­o­mists, and his­to­ri­ans who join the party es­tab­lish­ment. Yu, the sig­na­tory from Bei­jing, said he never char­ac­ter­ized him­self as po­lit­i­cally ac­tive un­til news of the Lei case this year stunned him.

“We ex­pected the case to be open, to be con­ducted ac­cord­ing to law in due time,” said Yu, who en­tered Ren­min Univer­sity’s busi­ness school in 1996. “In­stead, what we saw was that they judge cases from a po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive with sta­bil­ity as the first con­sid­er­a­tion,” he said in an in­ter­view. “They value more the loy­alty of the po­lice force rather than the cries of the peo­ple.”

BEI­JING: A po­lice car drives past a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s pro­pa­ganda billboard read­ing “China Rule By Law” on a street.

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