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Petitioners protest in Beijing

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James Reynolds | 08:36 UK time, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

One thing worries the government in China right now: public protest. The world economy's got worse. That means that people in this country are losing their jobs. Here's the equation the Communist Party fears: fewer jobs = more protests.

Even before the economic downturn, the Chinese government counted tens of thousands of demonstrations - or "mass incidents" - every year. Most of these protests take place well away from public view. Some of the demonstrations are filmed by the protesters themselves - who then post their footage onto the internet. Occasionally, we're able to cover protests ourselves. We usually take the chance to do so - it's important for us to report on what people are angry about, and how their actions are dealt with by the authorities. Policeman and petitioner

This morning a group of 70-80 demonstrators gathered outside the State Council press office in Beijing. These protesters were petitioners, ordinary people who appeal to the government to hear their individual cases. A petition is often a desperate last-resort - petitioners have usually spent years trying and failing to get justice through the courts.

As soon as my colleague and I arrived, a handful of petitioners approached us and began to tell us their stories.

Zhou Yafeng"My two daughters were killed in hospital because of radiation," Zhou Yafeng told us through tears, "I am asking for government's help because it's too slow to turn to the courts. You can see all the information from my documents including legal certificate on my daughters' death."

Other petitioners held up signs telling their own stories. Many tried to hand out photocopies of their petitions. One woman jammed a copy of hers into my jacket pocket.

A dozen or so police officers stood nearby. After a few minutes they taped off an area of pavement outside the State Council press office and told the petitioners to stand in one area. Most did so.

On the main road next to the protest traffic carried on normally. Bus passengers going by would have caught a brief sight of a group of people holding up signs, but nothing more.

One police officer asked to see our press cards. He then escorted us to another officer who wrote down our names and ID numbers in a dog-eared notebook.

We left shortly afterwards. As we drove away, two protesters threw copies of their petitions into the back seat of our car.


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