Chinese relatives of MH370 passengers protest against closure of family contact centres

Relatives of passengers who were on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 protesting in front of a police barrier near the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: ESTHER TEO 
Relatives of passengers who were on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 protesting in front of a police barrier near the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: ESTHER TEO 

About 30 family members of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 staged a protest near the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing on Thursday, furious that family support centres meant to be their contact point with the airline have been shut down.

Watched by dozens of policemen, with some holding video cameras, the relatives held signs that said "Malaysia, return my family member to me" and "We want the truth behind MH370".

Dressed in matching shirts and caps, the relatives also shouted slogans such as "Malaysia, hiding from responsibility" and "Fight to the end".

Despite the group's attempts to march to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing's Liangmaqiao area, they were stopped about 100m away by heavy police presence sealing off both ends of a road leading to the building.

Hebei native Lv Zhanzhong, 52, told The Straits Times that family members started gathering in Beijing about three weeks ago after MAS abruptly closed all seven Chinese contact centres on April 29, informing them of its decision to do so only a few days beforehand. 

His son was one of the 153 Chinese citizens on board the flight that went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 last year. 

The centre in Beijing, staffed by officials from the governments of Malaysia and China, as well as MAS, was set up on May 4 last year. Distraught family members made frequent visits to the centre, demanding answers.

"The plane has not even been found, yet they have taken away the only platform we have to communicate with them and to get information," Mr Lv said. 

"We've tried negotiating with them over the past few weeks but they are unwilling to open the centres so we have no other choice but to take our protest to the embassy today," he added.

More than a year after the plane disappeared, Chinese family members remain highly suspicious of Malaysia's handling of the search and believe the truth is being hidden from them.

MAS said last month that it remains absolutely committed to assisting the next-of-kin (NOK) in China.

"As have been communicated to the family members, MAS will continue to provide information and maintain communication with the NOKs via several platforms," MAS said in a statement after the centres' closure was announced.

"We have established dedicated hotline numbers and e-mail address for the NOKs to contact MAS for queries on general and compensation matters," it added.