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China's New Petition Website Crashes on First Day

China's new petition website crashed on the first day of its launch, sparking mockery and criticism from online users.

Chinese officials launched a new website for the average Chinese to submit online petitions on July 1, 2013, an effort to make the process more convenient with a promise that “every case made through the new online service would garner a response,” according to Xinhua news [zh].

But the new website crashed on the morning of the first day presumably due to heavy traffic. Though the website was back online in the afternoon, there were still a lot of problems. For example, it only supports Internet Explorer.

The Chinese have the tradition of going to Beijing to petition the emperor directly to address grievances when they fail to be heard by the local government. Although nowadays petitioning is still allowed,it is heavily discouraged. Petitioners sometimes search for justice through the legal system or local petitioning bureaus. However, those who feel that justice has not been served often travel to Beijing to appeal to the national petitioning bureau. More recently, Chinese have turned to the White House Petition Website for help.

The crash has many questioning how serious the government is dealing with the new project. On China’s most popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, a search of “online petition” yielded more than 525,364 [zh] discussions on July 2, 2013. Most netizens doubted that the online petition system would work, and some worried it could turn into a more convenient way for local government to track and control petitioners.

A screenshot of the petition website

A screenshot of the petition website

Yunnan-based newspaper “Yunxin Shiping” published a commentary piece titled “What Does the Paralysis of the Petition Website Mean”:

正是因为基层行政机关、司法机关积压了太多的纠纷,才导致公众“不信法而信访”,万事往上走。可关键是,信访也并不是坦途,网上投诉开放之后,网站被挤瘫虽是在情理之外,倒是在意料之中。公众挤瘫国家信访局门户网站,鼠标背后,有多少权利被压抑,有多少权力的冷漠与傲慢,有多少基层组织不作为甚至乱作为……似乎不难想象。

Because basic administrative organs and judicial organs have ignored too many disputes, which made the public no longer believe in law but petitioning, everything has to go to the upper level. But the key is, the road to petitioning is not smooth, the paralysis after the launch of the petition website is beyond logic but is within one's expectations. Behind the mouse clicks, how many rights have been repressed, how many authorities have showed the indifference and arrogance, how many grass-roots organizations have done nothing or have done something wrong…… it’s not difficult to imagine.

“Qingwa Mading” complained [zh] about both the petition system itself and the ill-functioning website. He also wrote that the real-name registration provides easy access for local officials who intend to stop petitioners:

在一个公民需要通过信访寻求公正的国度,谈民主和自由是可笑的事情,因为法治的社会一切不公都能通过法律解决。中国网上信访局成立,用Chrome打开竟提示不支持,看来网站建设的费用又被哪个官员的亲戚装口袋了。注册须用身份证号码进行实名验证,减轻了今后地方截访的工作量。

In a country where citizens rely on petitioning to seek justice, talking about democracy and freedom is ridiculous, because in a legal society, all social injustices can be resolved through law. The China Online Petition Bureau was established, but it does not support Chrome, it seems the money used to build the website has gone to the pockets of some officials’ relatives. Registration shall be verified by the real-name ID number, which will help reduce the workload of the local officials who try to stop the petitioners.

Blogger “Laoshu Jiazi Beiyong” explained [zh] why he thinks the online petition won’t work:

从以往一些信访纠纷来看,多数基层或边远地区的访民,都不太善用网络,号召他们通过网络渠道表达诉求,可能难以收到良好成效。另一方面,很多访民“信访不信法”“信国家信访办不信地方信访局”,是因为与后者相比,通过到北京上访的方式伸张正义,概率相对大一些。但是,很多访民都曾遇到“踢皮球”或“冷处理”的对待,即便通过网络上访,同样不能避免这种问题;而那些惯于以“堵”“捂”“压”的方式应对访民的地方政府,只需将以前的“进京截访”变成“网络截访”,就同样可以抹掉所谓的“负面信息”。

Taking a look at past petitioners, we can see that the majority of them are from remote areas where Internet is not widely used, asking them to express their issues through online channels may not work out. On the other hand, a lot of petitioners don’t believe in law but petitions, they don’t believe in local petition bureaus but national petition bureaus because they believe they have a greater chance if they go all the way to Beijing to appeal for justice. However, many petitioners have encountered “pass the buck” treatment or “cold treatment”. Even if they petition online, they can’t avoid the same problem. Those local governments who are accustomed to the “blocking”, “cover”, “pressure” approach to deal with petitioners just needs to change the strategy from “stopping them from going to Beijing” to erasing the so-called “negative information.”

Critic Wang Chuanyan warned [zh] of the possibility of Internet monitoring by the local government:

上访民众的网络安全,首先应该是上网过程的安全,到底有没有被当地政府监控,自身的信息资料是不是已经被冻结,其网络信息是不是也已经被监控等等。

Petitioners’ Internet safety is an issue. First, the safety of the online process, is there any monitoring system by the local government? Has their own information already been frozen? Has the Internet information already been monitored?

Writer Jin Maolou concluded [zh]:

在基国,执法就是打人,税收就是抢劫,信访就是踢皮球。今日国信局宣布全面接受网上投诉并承诺“事事有着落、件件有回音” 。下午,网站瘫痪。其实民众何必这么热情呢。信访局本就是违宪怪胎,指望它那是缘木求鱼。办法不是没有,取缔信访局,司法真正独立,不从根子上解决问题,作秀自嗨有何用。

In our country, law enforcement resorts to violence, the taxes are robbery, petitions are just used to pass the buck to avoid responsibility. Today the Bureau announced that they accept online complaints and promised that “every case made through the new online service would garner a response.” However, in the afternoon, the website crashed. In fact, why are people so passionate about the website? Petition Bureau itself is unconstitutional monster, it’s useless to place hope on it. There’s only one way, a truly independent judiciary. Without solving the problem fundamentally, what’s the use of putting on this show?

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