Human Rights Watch conducted field research for this report in Beijing for two weeks in 2005. Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews with thirty-four petitioners as well as with six lawyers, activists and journalists who have expertise on the petitioners issue.
Of the thirty-four petitioners who spoke to Human Rights Watch, twenty-four were men and ten were women. Most came from Chinas north and central provinces: fifteen were from Beijing and the vicinity, five were from Shanxi, four were from Shandong, three from Henan, two each from Heilongjiang and Liaoning, and one each from Anhui, Jilin, and Ningxia. Excepting one Manchurian and one Hui, all other interviewees were majority Hans. While Beijing reportedly has a large number of ethnic minority petitioners, many were reluctant to be interviewed for security reasons.
Interviews were conducted in settings that were as private as possible. All interviews were conducted in Mandarin. In addition, Human Rights Watch collected information from Chinese and English-language news accounts, scholarly journals, and archives in China, the United States, and the Internet.
In 2004, a volunteer collected statements, court documents and other supporting materials relating to the cases of an additional fifteen petitioners, and donated these case files to Human Rights Watch.
The scope of this study is necessarily limited by the information accessible to Human Rights Watch given the research constraints in China. China remains closed to official research by international human rights organizations. Over the years, Human Rights Watch has received numerous reports of the detention and interrogation of Chinese activists and scholars because of their contact with international human rights groups. As this report documents, Chinese activists working with petitioners also believe that they are closely monitored, and some have been interrogated or jailed for their work.
Because of these concerns, Human Rights Watch took a number of precautions while conducting field research. Researchers did not request interviews with government officials on the petitioning issue while in China, but did write to Chinas representatives in Washington, D.C. to request an interview.
Unless otherwise noted, we have used pseudonyms for Chinese citizens throughout. In most cases, petitioners requested that Human Rights Watch omit names and alter characteristics of interviewees. None of the petitioners interviewed appear in any of the photographs used in this report. Human Rights Watch looks forward to the day when it is safe for Chinese citizens to speak and meet openly with international human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch takes no position on the underlying merits of the petitions described in this report. The focus of this report is on what happens to petitioners after they file a petition.