Wukan Activist's Mother Interrogated, Intimidated After Incognito Visit

2017-03-20
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Zhuang Liehong speaks to RFA in an interview, March 18, 2017.
Zhuang Liehong speaks to RFA in an interview, March 18, 2017.
RFA

Authorities in China's rebel village of Wukan have threatened a local resident with the covert assassination of her U.S.-based son after he and other activists spoke out about round-the-clock surveillance and intimidation since clashes there last September.

Wukan officials paid the mother of Zhuang Liehong a visit on March 17 after he and others spoke to the media about recent visits to the beleaguered village by rights activists.

The campaign is a bid by Chinese activists to visit the village under cover, penetrating several layers of police checkpoints and camera-based surveillance to report on the situation on the ground following the expulsion of foreign journalists after the September crackdown.

"At about 9:00 a.m. Beijing time on March 17, several government officials took my mother away from our home for questioning, and didn't release her again until past 5:00 p.m.," Zhuang told RFA.

"An old lady who lives nearby was also detained that morning, because she had hosted [visiting activist] Cheng Yongzhong from Guangxi a few days earlier," he said. "But there has been no news of her yet."

Police had told her that Zhuang could be assassinated by covert agents operating in the U.S., he said.

"My mother was kept in a small interrogation room, in the chair used for interrogating suspects," he said. "More than a dozen officials hurled threats and insults at her the whole time, slamming the table with their fists, and threatening to go after me."

"'We'll beat you to death, old lady,' they told her. They were particularly angry that I had tried to intercept President Xi Jinping's motorcade [during his U.S. trip], and they said they'd send someone to the U.S. to have me assassinated," Zhuang said.

Security cordon

More than a year after a police raid ended months of daily demonstrations, Wukan is under a security cordon six or seven levels deep, with residents under constant surveillance from security cameras.

But last week, Chen Yongzong, a farmer-turned-rights activist from the southern region of Guangxi, made an incognito visit to take a look for himself, and to check up on the relatives of overseas natives of Wukan.

The village in southern China's Guangdong province has been largely incommunicado since hundreds of armed police in full riot gear raided the village on Sept. 13, firing rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds of protesters who fought back with bricks from behind makeshift barricades.

Chen said he had sneaked in past police checkpoints by night, but that it had been impossible for him to completely avoid security cameras once inside the village.

He described local residents as being too frightened to speak to strangers, and the terror sparked by his visit to Zhuang's family home, as relatives feared possible reprisals.

Zhuang said his mother was made to sit for hours with no food during the interrogation.

"She was insulted and interrogated," he said. "After they were done, the officials tried to make my mother sign some documents, but she refused."

"So they took her hand and forced her to make a fingerprint where her signature should be," he said, adding: "She said it was like the oppression of local people by the county government in the old days."

Sun Zhigang, an overseas supporter of the campaign for Wukan, said Zhuang's mother should never have been questioned for receiving a visitor.

"These are normal dealings between friends, between ordinary people; are they expected to report them to the police?" Sun said.

"This is a very long way from the rule of law."

Prison sentences

A court in Guangdong in January sent nine Wukan residents to prison to begin serving sentences ranging from two to 10 years for their involvement in resistance to the armed police raid, without giving them a chance to appeal.

The nine were sentenced by the Haifeng County People's Court on Dec. 26 for their part in resisting a raid that put an end to months of daily mass protest in Wukan following the loss of village land and the jailing of its former leader Lin Zuluan.

They were found guilty of charges that included "unlawful assembly," "disrupting public order," "disrupting traffic," "obstructing official business," and "intentionally spreading false information."

Wukan villagers have been campaigning for the return of land sold out from under them by former village chief Xue Chang, who was fired for corruption after an earlier round of protests and clashes in 2011, sparking fresh elections that saw Lin Zuluan take the helm.

But even Lin and his newly-elected village committee found it hard to secure the return of the land amid powerful vested interests, political changes higher up, and a tangle of complex legal issues.

September's raid by police on Wukan came after a court in Guangdong's Foshan city sentenced Lin to more than three years' imprisonment on "bribery" charges that local residents said were trumped up.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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