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September 24, 2017

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China is failing to protect its own citizens' welfare

In China, victims — whether of natural disasters, of criminals or of government malfeasance — should always keep one thing in mind: things could get worse, much worse.

If they try to seek justice by going to court, lodging a complaint or talking to the media, they are likely to be treated like criminals themselves.

Thus, parents of the thousands of children who died in poorly constructed schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake came under pressure to sign contracts under which they would receive compensation in return for their silence. Those who refused to sign got nothing.

A teacher, Liu Shaokun, who took photos of collapsed school buildings and put them online, was accused of disseminating rumors and destroying social order and sentenced to a year of re-education through labor, an administrative punishment.

An activist, Huang Qi, who criticized the government's response to the earthquake, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Last month, two female students at Hebei University were struck by a car driven by Li Qiming, whose father, Li Gang, is deputy director of the public security bureau.

The younger Li drove away without stopping and, when caught, said simply, "My father is Li Gang." That was all the protection he needed, a powerful father.

One of the two women, 20-year-old Chen Xiaofeng, died and her father, Chen Guangqian, now lives in fear. "We don't have any connections," he reportedly said in an interview. "We won't be able to just find anyone we want. It's also hard for us to find evidence and information." The Chen family has come under pressure to accept compensation-and keep quiet. According to Chen's lawyer, Zhang Kai, a gag order has been issued and not a single witness who saw the accident has stepped forward.

Last week, Zhao Lianhai, widely considered a hero for having campaigned on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of babies sickened by drinking tainted milk — at least six of whom died — was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. What was his crime? Zhao himself was a victim. His infant son drank Sanlu Group milk laced with the chemical melamine to make it look as though it was high in protein and, as a result, the baby developed a kidney stone in 2008.

The Beijing native, after realizing that there was a huge number of victims, worked to bring them together so that they could exchange information and join forces to seek justice. He created a website called "Home for Kidney Stone Babies" and urged aggrieved parents not to accept a compensation plan endorsed by the government.

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