Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained and beaten a group of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans after they petitioned the central government over a lack of pension and other retirement benefits.
Several dozen veterans had traveled to Beijing from the southwestern province of Sichuan on Nov. 29 to petition the complaints office of the State Council, they told RFA.
But they were detained there by police and officials from Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu and sent to the Jiujingzhuang detention center, a veteran who asked not to be identified said on Tuesday.
“A group of us went from some of the suburbs of Chengdu, to fight for our rights in Beijing,” the veteran said. “We were [beaten up] by unidentified security guards in Jiujingzhuang.”
“If I’m frank, these security guards in Jiujingzhuang did it at the request of the Beijing police; they beat anyone who doesn’t totally comply with their orders,” he said.
The veteran said he is still being held at the “holding center” pending discussions with local officials and detention center guards.
“They seriously injured two of us, and another four or five were also beaten [but less severely],” he said.
The most seriously injured, Zhang Qiwu, is currently receiving medical treatment in the You’anmen Hospital in Beijing, and is currently awaiting surgery for internal bleeding and a broken ankle.
A second veteran told RFA that the beatings took place on their arrival at Jiujingzhuang, where detained petitioners typically await an escort back to their hometowns, where they face further surveillance, beatings or detention in “study centers.”
He said detainees from other parts of China had also been attacked by Jiujingzhuang security guards.
“It wasn’t just the Sichuanese who were attacked; there were some from Hubei as well,” he said. “We are trying to get some kind of redress for those who were injured.”
Video footage of sent to RFA included an audio recording of one veteran of China’s brief border war with Vietnam calling a Beijing police station to enquire about the beatings.
“We haven’t broken the law: why would you use violence on us?” the veteran can be heard asking, to which the police officer replies: “Are you sure about that?”
“We presented our demands in a reasonable and lawful manner, so what have we done wrong?” the veteran says. “Is it legal to get auxiliary police officers to beat up veterans?”
Just another persecutor?
Chinese President Xi Jinping called in October for a new agency to protect the rights of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans, thousands of whom have staged mass protests in Beijing since last year over a lack of pensions and other promised benefits.
But veterans said they are waiting to see if the agency will act as their protector, or as just another persecutor.
PLA veterans have been identified by the leadership as one of the most politically sensitive groups in China.
In October 2016, thousands of demobilized PLA personnel converged on Beijing from across China, staging a vocal protest outside the headquarters of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission (CMC), which Xi chairs.
Singing “In Unity is Our Strength” and other Chinese military choruses, the veterans, some of whom had fought in in the Korean War (1950-1953), wore their old uniforms and stood peacefully, calling for pensions, healthcare and other demobilization benefits they said were promised but not delivered.
Any bid to organize has since triggered nationwide security alerts via the “stability maintenance” system, which targets peaceful protesters, petitioners and critics of the government.
The veterans are calling on the authorities to abide by promises made to them before they signed up to fight in China’s short border war with Vietnam in 1979.
Clause 3 of the Military Pensions Priority Regulations requires governments to ensure that the standard of living and social situation of demobilized PLA soldiers doesn’t fall below the national average.
Other veterans are citing official document No. 75 issued by China’s cabinet, the State Council, in 1978 promising to find jobs for demobilized military personnel.
Radio Free Asia
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.