PRC sends military veterans to jail for years for protesting poor benefits
Chinese courts sentenced at least 47 military veterans in April 2019 for protesting during the previous year against mistreatment and a lack of compensation for their service, including a failure to provide pensions, The Associated Press reported.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) Justice Ministry sentenced the former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers from two to six years in prison, according to Newsweekmagazine. Charges including “gathering crowds to disturb social order” and “intentional assault.” The defendants all pled guilty, and some received lighter or suspended sentences for “confessing,” China’s state-run news service Xinhua reported, according to Radio Free Asia.
Authorities arrested the veterans in June 2018 during a four-day protest sparked by the alleged beating of a fellow veteran after he petitioned for better benefits. More than 1,000 veterans participated in the protest, singing and shoutingin a squarenear government offices in the eastern city of Zhenjiang, in Jiangsu province, where the assault occurred.They were demandingbetter treatment, benefits and job opportunities.
“The problem is that there’s too much corruption at the local level,” Chen Wuliang, a former soldier from eastern China, told The New York Timesnewspaper in 2018 after the protest. “Where the local corruption is bad is also where old veterans who fought in wars are worst oppressed.”
The 2018 protests escalated to violence between local police and the former soldiers, according to Xinhua. The Chinese Justice Ministry also charged some of the veterans with having “fabricated and disseminated false information,” Newsweekreported.
However, media outside PRC control cast the harsh sentences as just another form of oppression by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Former military personnel have long complained about poor compensation and pensions. More widespread protests, however, started after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2015 announcement that he would cut some 300,000 troops from the then 2.3 million-strong PLA. The move focused attention on the Chinese government’s neglect of the country’s more than 50million living former service personnel.
Scores of smaller protests and at least one protest involving more than 1,000 veterans has occurred every year from 2015 to 2018. In October 2016, for example, more than 1,000 veterans descended on Beijing outside the PLA’s headquarters.
“We’ve gotten nothing since retiring from service: no pensions, no social security,” a 55-year-old protester from China’s northern Shanxi province and former PLA soldier explained to The Wall Street Journalnewspaper in 2016.
In2017, more than 1,000 veterans protested nearthe Beijing offices of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the CCP’s anti-corruption organization.Zhao Xinyue, a former volunteer soldier from Henan province, then explained that authorities are supposed to give jobs to decommissioned soldiers or provide them with benefits.
“It used to be as volunteer soldiers, when we returned home we had land,” Zhao told Reuters. “Now we don’t have jobs, no retirement pension, we have nothing.”
In response to the scores of protests in recent years over the lack of benefits, the PRC created a ministry of veterans affairs in 2018. Many former soldiers, however, continue to see a disconnect between government rhetoric and the poor treatment and compensation they receive, according to various media reports.
Moreover, the latest jail sentences of veterans seem to be just another attempt to suppress citizens’ voices. A Chinese journalist surnamed Chen told Radio Free Asia that the sentences were intended to quash future protests by PLA veterans.
“It will definitely scare off some of them and make people more afraid to stand up for their rights if they are likely to face this kind of suppression,” Chen said. “However, some people will learn the true state of our society from this [case] and find other ways to stand up for their rights,” he said.
The PRC has long restricted any public demonstrations as epitomized by the 1989 Tiananmen Square debacle that killed at least 10,000 people, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. (Pictured: People’s Liberation Army veterans stand in Tiananmen Square in late September 2018, on the eve of the 69th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Many say the PRC has failed to properly compensate them for their service.)
The U.S. continues to press the PRC on its suppression of nearly all forms of opposition through tactics ranging from detention and forced disappearances to torture and state-sanctioned killings as well as physical attacks and criminal prosecution of “journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners,” as described in the U.S. State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018, released in March 2019.