Beijing: The poisoning of a college student 18 years ago recently re-emerged as a hot topic in China, but censors soon squelched the politically sensitive online discussions over whether the culprit may have eluded punishment because of Communist Party connections.
Chinese looking for justice found another way to keep the issue alive. They took it to Washington.
Appealing to a White House online petition page, they soon gathered the 100,000 signatures required for an official response, and -- although there has been no response from Washington so far -- news of the request revived talk about the case in China. Beijing police issued an explanation after weeks of silence, and state media chimed in with editorials.
"The Chinese public went to a foreign site to vent off their frustration, and that speaks of the loss of credibility of the Chinese government," said Shen Dingli, professor of American studies at Fudan University.
Started in 2011 as a project in open government for the Internet age, the Obama administration`s "We the People" site is a work in progress that already has spawned unintended consequences domestically, prompting updates of the ground rules for a successful petition.
Though clearly intended for US citizens, the guidelines on gathering online signatories remain broad enough to hearten activists overseas who, frustrated with their own governments, hope to raise the international profile of their cases. The site does not ask for one`s nationality, and one only needs to be 13 or older and have a verified email address to create an account to initiate a petition or sign one.
Malaysians have complained to the White House about election fraud in their country, drawing more than 222,000 signatures within a week to become the site`s second-most popular issue. Other petitions ask President Barack Obama to secure the release of two abducted Orthodox Christian archbishops in Syria and to urge a recount of votes in Venezuela`s presidential elections.