Shenzhen Expands Measures Against "Abnormal Petitioning"

May 11, 2010

On April 15, 2010, public security authorities in the city of Shenzhen issued an announcement introducing a new policy restricting citizens from obtaining local residence permits if they have engaged in activities specified in the announcement including "abnormal petitioning." The directive follows a joint circular issued in November 2009 in Shenzhen city outlining penalties, including reeducation through labor (RTL), for citizens accused of 14 different types of "abnormal petitioning." Various other local governments have issued circulars similar to Shenzhen's that make "abnormal petitioning" subject to punishment. Several citizens in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region reportedly have been sent to reeducation through labor centers for "abnormal petitioning."

The Shenzhen municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB) announced on April 15, 2010, that seven categories of people, including certain groups of petitioners, would be put on a "black list of people unwelcome in Shenzhen and who would not be eligible to apply for a residence permit," according to a copy of the announcement on the municipal PSB Web site and an April 17 Xinhua editorial. The Shenzhen policy appears to restrict the granting of Shenzhen city residence permits to citizens who have engaged in specified types of petitioning behaviors:

  • those who continue to petition regarding issues that authorities already have deemed to be "closed"
  • those who have signed an agreement to "stop complaints and end appeals" (tingfang xisu) but who have continued nonetheless to petition higher level authorities
  • those who violate National Xinfang Regulations or other laws and regulations by "bypassing immediate levels" to take their complaints to higher administrative levels and engaging in "abnormal petitioning"

The announcement also lists six other categories of people not eligible for residence permits:

  1. those "who are or are suspected of engaging in activities that endanger state security"
  2. those "who participate in or are suspected of engaging in cult organization activities"
  3. those "suspected of being on the run because of involvement in a crime"
  4. those "criminally punished" for past violent criminal acts specified in the announcement
  5. those "criminally punished for being engaged in, participating in, covering up, or coordinating terrorist activities"
  6. those "criminally punished or detained for engaging in, participating in, covering up, or coordinating drug dealing"


A "person responsible" for managing the approval of residence permits said that Shenzhen "does not welcome those...who would damage social stability" and that "the goal of the residence permit system is to guarantee citizens' lawful rights, to promote a harmonious society, and to strengthen social management," according to an April 16 Guangzhou Daily article. The person also said that public security officials would be responsible for determining whether an individual could be classified as belonging to any of the seven categories listed above. The person noted that the PSB had established a channel for appeals and that those people who have "turned over a new leaf" and had not had a criminal record for at least three years from the date of their last offense would be eligible to apply for a residence permit.

The Xinhua editorial questioned the Shenzhen policy announcement by noting that including people deemed to have been involved in abnormal petitioning on an "unwelcome black list" may cause "social unease" because it is unclear if government departments have the authority to "label" citizens as unwelcome. The editorial suggested that government authorities are exceeding their authority by placing people who take their grievances to higher level officials on a "black list." It also suggested that this practice would mean there was no guarantee that citizens' rights and interests would be upheld, and that the reasons why citizens take their grievances to higher levels could be obscured. An April 19 Xinkuai Net editorial, a Worker's Daily editorial (reprinted on the Chinese News Net Web site on April 20), and an April 17 China Daily editorial, raised questions regarding the possible discriminatory nature of the "black list," called for the cancellation of the policy, or stated that authorities should not threaten the deprivation of residency rights, but instead should make use of relevant laws to deal with citizens that travel to higher level administrative regions and engage in "abnormal petitioning."

A second statement appeared on the Shenzhen city PSB Web site, apparently posted a few days after the initial announcement responding to queries from the public about the initial announcement, stating that Shenzhen authorities "place great importance on protecting citizens' legal rights to petition higher-level authorities[.]" In addition, it stated that "to protect fully citizens' rights of freedom of movement and freedom of residence, citizens who take their grievances to higher levels of authority will receive equal treatment[.]" "Regardless of whether or not petitioners stop complaints and end appeals, as long as they meet the conditions for a permit, they will receive one." The second announcement, however, does not nullify the new policy.

The new Shenzhen PSB policy comes after the issue of a joint circular by the Shenzhen Intermediate People's court, Procuratorate, PSB, and Justice Bureau, as reported in a February 2010 Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) analysis, that identified 14 types of prohibited "abnormal petitioning" behavior and corresponding administrative punishments. As reported in a November 13 Xinhua article, under the PRC Legislation Law, mandatory measures and penalties involving deprivation of citizens of their political rights or restriction of the freedom of their person must be enacted by the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee. This calls into question the validity of locally issued circulars such as the one issued in Shenzhen. Nonetheless, other localities in China also have issued circulars similar to that issued in Shenzhen that prohibit "abnormal petitioning" including three (reposted on Boxun) in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Jiangsu province, and Wuhan municipality. The local directives have been used as the legal foundation for sending citizens to RTL centers. Citizens from at least one area in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have been sent to RTL centers for "abnormal petitioning" according to an RTL decision document posted February 7 on the Chinese Human Rights Defenders Web site.

For more information on Shenzhen's efforts to stop citizens from taking their grievances to higher level authorities, see a previous CECC analysis. For more information on China's xinfang system, see Section III―Access to Justice in the CECC 2009 Annual Report, p. 238.