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English>>China Society

Seeking justice from pollution (3)

By Yan Shuang (Global Times)

11:13, October 31, 2012

Ignored and outraged

Another reason for the large scale protests is that many cases remain unresolved despite appeals to the court, said Liu Jinmei, a lawyer with the Center for Legal Assistance for Pollution Victims under the China University of Political Science and Law.

Around one third of the cases the center processed never made it to the court, said Liu, with the lawsuit appeals rejected either because the projects bring in a lot of money, or the company has strong connections with the government.

"There are few organizations in China that provide pollution victims with legal consulting services for free, so most of the time people don't know whom to turn to for help when their living environment is endangered. Some only start seeking help when the case has passed a prescribed period for litigation, or they don't have access to essential evidence, which means they lose their cases if they are fortunate enough to even have their cases accepted by the courts," Liu said.

One example is Xu Yu, a 62-year-old villager in Liaoning Province, who said he felt powerless after a four-year appeal with the courts against a polluting chemical plant failed to make any progress.

He said that since a chemical plant was established in the Zhangjiayingzi township, Jianping county, in 2008, there had been several major incidents of poisoning involving nearby residents, including one that involved some 300 students who showed similar symptoms of being poisoned in October 2008. Residents attributed it to pollution from the plant and attempted lawsuits, but were turned down by the courts.

"I appealed at the village, county and municipal courts but they all told me they couldn't accept the case because it's a case involving a group of people rather than a personal dispute," Xu said. Hundreds of residents rallied at the township government for a protest and thousands signed an appeal letter to environmental authorities during the past four years, but the local government and courts always attempted to dodge their responsibilities, he said.

Xu tried to submit an appeal to the Supreme People's Court in Beijing in August 2010, but was detained by county police for 10 days after he was sent home.

The environmental protests also reveal growing public demand for participation in politics, said Tang Hao, an associate professor of politics at South China Normal University. In recent years, environmental campaigns that began from small groups including environmental activists and scholars, have morphed into massive street protests involving ordinary people. Tang said, adding that fortunately, so far, the protests had not been particularly violent, but if there was no action on this issue, there was a risk that this could change in future.

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