Several hundred villagers in southern China’s Guangdong province protested Friday demanding elections to replace a newly appointed village committee following clashes over official corruption linked to a land sale, residents said.
The move came nearly a year after residents in another village in Guangdong took to the streets over a land grab by their local committee, forcing politicians on the panel out of office and winning the right to elect their own representatives.
Friday’s protest by residents of Liantang, in the city of Shantou, followed a standoff last month with local officials that led to clashes with police sparked by the sale of community land.
Local leaders asked residents to nominate new village committee members following the clashes but largely did not take into consideration their proposals, residents said.
The authorities announced this month a list of 15 new committee members containing few of the names residents had put forward, triggering the demands for elections.
Residents have collected over 10,000 signatures for a petition that they plan to hand to local leaders calling for a popular vote for the village committee.
At the protest in front of village committee offices on Friday, residents called on local authorities to explain the rationale for the selection of the new village committee members, a Liantang resident surnamed Lin said.
"We called for the leaders to come out and explain. We want them to withdraw the list of names that they announced. We asked them in what way were these people selected,’” he told RFA’s Cantonese service.
“If there are some villagers who support having them on the list, we would like to see the evidence. We want to know how those people got to be elected [to the committee],” he said.
The villagers remained outside the offices until evening but no officials came out to talk to them, he said.
Tensions between residents and authorities had stemmed from the village committee’s sale of over 1,000 mu (67 hectares or 135 acres) of the village’s forest and farmland earlier this year.
Receiving no compensation for the land, residents accused local authorities of corruption and embezzling funds from the land sale.
Some of the residents had lost their livelihoods that depended on the farmland.
Tensions hit a peak at the end of October, when over 4,000 local residents blocked roads leading to the village in a standoff that was violently dispersed by police.
A resident surnamed Liu said that he suspected local authorities with close ties with the Shantou Public Security Bureau of Shantou had sent local police to threaten his son after he urged the village party secretary to quit.
"I had told the party leader of the village face-to-face that he should choose to step down because this is the villagers’ wish. But then the local police station sent someone to threaten my kid.”
He said that by speaking out against official corruption, the villagers were standing up for their rights.
“Though we lack legal knowledge, we still know how to protect our rights according to the law.”
Staff contacted by RFA on Friday at the Jinping district government office declined to comment and phone calls to the Liantang village committee offices ran unanswered.
The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments sparks thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
Last year, the rebel village of Wukan southwest of Liantang in Guangdong drew international attention when residents staged landmark protests and threw out its officials.
Their violent protests against unscrupulous land grabs and rigged elections sparked rare concessions after an investigation by the Guangdong provincial government concluded that most of the Wukan villagers' demands and complaints were fair.
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to rural communities under collective contract and through the household responsibility system that replaced the state-run farms and communes of the Mao era.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA’s Cantonese service. Translated by Shiny Li. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.