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2018-05-09 11:08:06

A villager in northwestern Shaanxi province sought the local government’s help with a demolition case, only to find his petition made public as an example of “shameless” conduct, local newspaper Chinese Business View reported Wednesday.

Officially, petitions are a legitimate and welcome method for citizens to participate in public affairs or expose corruption, and government regulations say that petitioners should be free from retaliation. But 60-year-old Shang Zizhen from Daliuta Town was punished for making a complaint to town authorities about the controversial demolition of his quarry.

Several days after he submitted his petition last June, Shang found his letter printed out and posted on the official village noticeboard with his full name, and the comment: “All residents are invited to see how shameless this villager is.”

Shang believed the comment came from Bu Liping, a town official who oversaw the demolition. The document was displayed on the board for more than a month, although Shang’s wife took down three copies, which were promptly replaced. After Shang’s protests went ignored for months, he filed a lawsuit against the town government, the village committee, and Bu last November, accusing them of smearing his reputation.

In April, a court in the city of Shenmu, which administers Daliuta Town, ruled that Bu should restore Shang’s reputation by posting an apology on the noticeboard, but it did not hold the town government or the village committee responsible. To this day, Bu has not complied with the court’s order, and Shang appealed last week.

In a reply to Chinese Business View, the discipline inspection office of Daliuta Town said the office had “criticized and educated” Bu over the issue. It was unclear how Bu had accessed Shang’s petition letter, and Sixth Tone could not reach the local petition office for comment on Wednesday.

Han Fuguo, an assistant professor in political science at Fudan University in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that leaking Shang’s information to Bu was a violation of petition regulations. “Many local governments and individuals have no idea about the rule of law, and still try to settle issues using sheer power,” said Han. He added that poor legal knowledge led some authorities to humiliate those with differing views.

As the central government pushes for greater accountability and efficiency in public services, many local government organizations have registered official accounts on social networks including WeChat and Weibo to release information and collect public feedback. But in some cases, interactions with citizens have been unprofessional, and even downright dismissive.

On Monday, state broadcaster China Central Television reported that a teacher in Anhui province received rude replies in response to her online inquiries. The government later apologized and said that the messages had been generated by artificial intelligence. Earlier in 2013, when a resident in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region asked traffic police about a ticket through their Weibo account, he received a reply explaining the rules with the ending note, “You idiot.”

“Official accounts on WeChat, Weibo, and other portals are just new platforms for communication,” Han said. “What’s key is the philosophy of governance and the quality of government officials.”

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: VCG)