China Jails Holdout Couple Who Tried to Self-Immolate

2007-06-06
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On April 27, 2007, in Hexi Village, Shandong province, a couple struggled on the roof of their house with a demolition crew. They were sentenced on May 28.

HONG KONG—Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have sentenced a couple to jail terms of up to 18 months for trying to set fire to themselves in protest at plans to forcibly evict them to make way for new property developments.

Yuan Xinyu was sentenced by the Qingdao Intermediate People’s Court to a year and a half in prison for “attempted arson,” while his wife, Zheng Fangshi, received a one-year sentence, the men’s lawyer told RFA’s Mandarin service.

Both are residents of Hexi village in Sifang district of Qingdao city, Shandong.

The homes of ordinary people holding out against a wave of property developments across China are referred to as “nail houses.”

The government didn't satisfy the relevant requirements pertaining to illegal construction.

Such protesters frequently complain that they weren’t adequately consulted about development plans, about official corruption and state-sponsored violence in connection with such deals, and about unpaid or inadequate compensation.

“The government didn’t satisfy the relevant requirements pertaining to illegal construction,” Beijing-based lawyer Teng Biao told reporter Yan Ming. “So their actions have no basis in law.”

China adopted a landmark Property Law at the March annual parliamentary session, although legislators pointed out at the time that certain crucial definitions were left too vague, especially those that might be of use in arbitrating eviction cases involving collective land.

The state has ultimate ownership of land in China, but it is attempting to clarify property ownership to provide a firm basis for economic development and investment.

“We have provided documentary proof to the court that the house concerned was the legal property of the couple, and that the reason they poured petrol on themselves was to defend their own property, and therefore does not constitute damaging of state property,” Teng added.

Yuan’s brother Yuan Benming said he was strongly dissatisfied with the court’s decision. “I believe that this decision is unfair. I am very unhappy about it, and we will continue to appeal.”

Villagers are also calling for the release of Yuan Deliang and his wife, who are in criminal detention following a sit-in protest on their own rooftop.

Video shot by a villager and made available to RFA shows Yuan Deliang and his wife being taken by groups of men off the roof, after Yuan hurled buckets of excrement at them.

The couple are believed to have been charged with “hindering state business.”

Their eldest daughter said the 40 square meter (360 square foot) family home was still desperately needed. “We have had a lot of difficulties, and my mother and father are both in poor health,” she said.

“I also have a younger sister. Isn’t anything going to be left over for us?”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Yan Ming. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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