Three brothers have been hospitalized after setting themselves on fire to protest a forced land grab in northern China’s Hebei province, according to villagers and local officials Monday.
The trio, all peasants, took the desperate action on Thursday after local authorities dispatched about 300 “gangsters” backed by heavy equipment such as bulldozers and excavators to flatten and seize a 400 mu (66-acre) wheat field in Peipozhuang village, Yongnian county, they said.
“The surname for the three brothers is ‘Bai,’ and they all committed self-immolation,” said a villager with the last name Liu during an interview on Monday.
“They leveled 400 mu of our field. This was done by gangsters hired by the local government,” the woman said, adding that the men were armed with iron bars and long sticks.
Bare-handed villagers clashed with them and many were wounded, she said. “The cadres ordered this demolition, and they didn’t care about us at all.”
She said the future of those who lost their land is bleak, adding that their livelihood has been robbed.
Local officials who oversaw the land grab did not have proper documents to back their action and failed to inform the relevant farmers of the land acquisition.
On noticing the trio on fire, residents threw soil over them to douse the flames, eyewitnesses said. Two police officers at the scene did not take any action.
Villagers revealed on an online post that the three brothers were severely burnt and were being treated at a hospital in Handan city. One of them is in critical condition.
Officials at the scene ignored the self-immolation protests. Family members of the three have however been placed under surveillance.
Liu said the seizure of the land began in May in phases.
A woman who answered the phone at the township office confirmed the land acquisition, claiming that the issue has been resolved.
“All major managers are now dealing with this incident. Everything has settled down. No one died,” the woman said.
When contacted, the Yongnian county information office director refused to comment.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, three local officials have been punished, including by suspension, in connection with the issue.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.