When Chinese Sue the State, Cases Are Often Smothered
By JOSEPH KAHN
Published: December 28, 2005
SHIQIAO, China - The peasants surrounded the clerk in the busy court anteroom, badgering him to let them sue the officials who had seized their land.
No, no, the clerk said, shaking his head and waving his hands, as the peasants recalled it. They were wasting his time and theirs. But as they withdrew, their legal papers remained on his desk in plain sight. Maybe, the peasants hoped, that meant the clerk had tacitly accepted their application to sue.
"In two years of trying every option under the law, this was a moment of optimism," said Li Huitang, a leader of peasant resistance in Shiqiao, a village in Hebei Province, in northern China. "We hoped he might rule on our request."
Even a written rejection would have been a bonanza, enabling them to appeal to a higher court. But it was not to be. The clerk soon called Mr. Li's home, ordering him to retrieve the documents. When Mr. Li declined, the clerk mailed them back in a plain manila envelope, unmarked, unprocessed and officially ignored.
China's legal system often hands down verdicts that the powerless consider unfair. But a bigger problem is that courts often refuse to issue any verdict at all - or even acknowledge that some bothersome legal complaints exist....