Emotional MH370 families gather at Beijing temple on 6-month anniversary of vanishing

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, cry as they gather to pray at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing on Sept 8, 2014, on the six-month anniversary of the disappearance of the plane. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, cry as they gather to pray at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing on Sept 8, 2014, on the six-month anniversary of the disappearance of the plane. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Family members of the passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are still seeking answers and closure six months after the plane's disappearance.

But at an emotional gathering in Beijing on Monday, relatives' sorrow was mixed with fierce resentment of the Chinese authorities who they feel have turned against them after dozens of family members were reportedly beaten and arrested in recent months.

About 30 of their relatives gathered at Beijing's Lama Temple, a popular Tibetan Buddhist site, to vent their frustration and pray for the missing on a day that marks both the six-month anniversary of the flight's disappearance as well as China's traditional Mid-Autumn Festival, a day for families to reunite.

"In China, today is Family Reunion Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival," said a 55-year-old woman who gave only her surname Zhang, whose daughter was aboard the flight. "Every day is torture, but today we're suffering even more," added Ms Zhang, who is from the far north-eastern city of Harbin but has been staying in Beijing since the plane's disappearance.

"I'm calling on the kind people of the world to hurry up and rescue my child," said another woman, who declined to give her name. "Rescue my child. We can't live on."

Chinese passengers account for about two-thirds of the 239 people aboard the Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

In Malaysia, relatives of the missing also expressed anger and frustration at the uncertainty.

Mr Selamat Umar, 60, whose son Mohamad Khairul Amri was onboard the ill-fated airliner, said he held special prayers attended by about 100 people on Sunday for "Allah to protect my son and bring him back".

"It is breaking my heart that we still do not have any information about MH370," he said.

"There is no peace of mind for me at all," he said.

"We want to know where are our loved ones."

Ms Jacquita Gonzales, 52, the wife of in-flight supervisor Patrick Gomes, said it was "daily torture for us not knowing where they are".

"Six months on we are no closer to the truth, we are no closer to any closure. We are in limbo," she said.

"A lot of people say, 'It's been six months. It's time to move on.' But I can't. How do you expect me to move on?"

As plainclothes and uniformed police looked on in Beijing, several family members related stories of harassment by the Chinese authorities, such as one episode earlier this summer when more than a dozen family members were arrested - including children aged six and four - and some beaten after seeking answers from the Malaysia Airlines office in Beijing.

Ms Dai Shuqin, a 61-year-old worker from Beijing whose younger sister and her family were aboard MH370, said she was among those who had been detained.

"We don't understand it; we're just ordinary people," she said.

"Some of us want to take our own lives - climb up a tall building and kill ourselves," she added. "We're being bullied so much. Our country is not protecting us at all. How can we live?"

The mistreatment represents a sharp turnaround by the Chinese authorities, who initially voiced support for the relatives and even granted rare permission for them to hold demonstrations outside the Malaysian Embassy.

Upon arriving at the Lama Temple, amid crowds of tourists and others bearing offerings of incense and flowers, some of the relatives burst out in anger at their treatment and the lack of answers, with some continuing to espouse conspiracy theories about the plane's whereabouts.

"I think this case is strange," said a man surnamed Zhen, the brother of a missing passenger. "Technology and information is already very developed. Half a year has gone by and absolutely no news. It's really hard to accept."

Later, the family members gathered on benches to eat steamed buns and fruit, while nearby temple visitors burned incense at giant cauldrons. Some had donned blue-and-white T-shirts reading "MH370, return home safely", which they had worn to earlier demonstrations. Several rested their heads in their hands, distraught.

"At the very least, this kind of thing shouldn't happen," Ms Zhang said when asked about the abuse at the hands of the authorities. "We relatives are all suffering. They shouldn't make us suffer even more."