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