The case of 7 land petitioners who drank pesticide outside the China Youth Daily office in Beijing on July 16 in an effort to draw attention to their grievances is once again making the news. Officials in the petitioners’ hometown of Sihong County, Jiangsu province had forcibly removed them from their homes and demolished their houses, forcing them to sign relocation agreements with compensation rates much lower than the properties’ market value. The 14 government officials involved in the case have since reportedly been punished, but the 7 petitioners have also been criminally detained and charged for causing public unrest.
There are legal bases in administrative and criminal law on which to charge the petitioners, the former giving the authorities the power to detain them for up to 15 days and resulting in a fine as opposed to a 37 days detention and a much harsher punishment of up to 5 years’ imprisonment under the latter.
The article collates the responses of several academics and former officials to explain why the charges are unjustified. Of these, several respondents question if group suicide should be considered as causing a public unrest amounting to a criminal offence, while others question if causing public unrest should even be a criminal offence in the first place. This case has drawn the attention of legal practitioners, who are rallying to build a case for these petitioners.