A man protesting forced eviction from his home in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong set himself on fire on Friday in front of government advisors during a parliamentary meeting, his relatives said.
Tan Shuguang, an evictee from Wenshang county, poured gasoline over himself and set fire to it outside the Shandong Towers building in Jining city, as delegates to the local Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) were emerging from the opening session, his brother said.
The flames were doused quickly and he was taken to a hospital in Jining but latest reports said that he had been taken away from the hospital by local ruling Chinese Communist Party officials.
Tan Hongguang said his brother had called their father at around 10:40 a.m. to say he was about to light the gasoline.
"He told our father that none of the delegates cared about our problems, and that they were just dodging and avoiding him," he said.
"The police and the security guards extinguished the flames quite quickly."
Tan said his brother had once previously tried to commit suicide.
"The doctors said his legs were very badly burned, but they didn't say anything about other injuries," he added.
Tan Shuguang was taken to the Jilu Hospital in Jining by officials from his home county of Wenshang.
However, his relatives said his whereabouts were unknown on Friday afternoon.
"He was admitted at about noon and was discharged at 1:30 p.m.," an employee who answered the phone at the hospital said. "According to our records, he is no longer here, but I don't know who took him away."
The employee said Tan Shuguang's condition was unlikely to have been critical, or "he would definitely not have been allowed to leave."
Taken by officials
According to Tan Hongguang, his brother had already been taken away from the hospital by officials from the family's hometown by the time the family arrived at the hospital.
"Maybe they were afraid he would give interviews to the media," he said. "We are in [the provincial capital] Jinan looking for him right now, but we can't find him."
"We called the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party secretary of our township, and he wouldn't admit it at first, but then he did admit [they had him] and told us to come and meet them, but we didn't want to do that," Tan Hongguang said.
"The moment we meet up with them, they will detain us illegally, because they're afraid we'll speak to the foreign media," he added.
An official who answered that phone at the Wenshang county government offices on Friday confirmed the self-immolation had taken place.
"We know about this incident," the official said. "But we don't know where he has been taken to."
But he added: "Our leaders know where he is. This is just the office, so we don't know the details."
Asked if the local government was astir over Tan's protest, he replied: "Yes, that's right."
Years of petitioning
Tan began petitioning the authorities for compensation after his family home was forcibly demolished three years ago. He tried to commit suicide by poisoning himself in Beijing last June after a trip to petition the central government proved unsuccessful, his relatives said.
Shortly afterwards, his father, Tan Jikui, was sent to labor camp, but sent home again after being diagnosed with cancer.
Tan Hongguang said the family was simply asking for the amount of compensation stipulated in the regulations on forced eviction.
"We just want compensation for the 60-some square meters (646 square feet) of our home, and the land it was built on," he said. "They also fired me from my job at a state-run coal mine, and I want it back. These are our three demands."
"Our township Party secretary said he wouldn't do anything because our case hadn't led to loss of life," he said. "My brother really took this to heart."
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, according to a recent report by rights group Amnesty International.
Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of self-immolation from 2009 to 2011 alone due to forced evictions. That compares to fewer than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.
Nearly half of all rural residents have had land forcibly taken from them, with the number of cases on the rise, according to a 2011 study by the Landesa Rural Development Institute.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.