Dalian Tries PX Activists

The group of six Chinese campaigners had spoken out against the potential dangers of a petrochemical plant.
2013-01-22
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A man reads a newspaper report about a chemical plant whose protective dike was breached by waves in Dalian, Aug. 15, 2011.
ImagineChina

Authorities in the northeastern port city of Dalian have put on trial six activists who campaigned against a major petrochemical plant in the city, charging them with "libel" and "concocting false information."

Qiu Jie, an activist who campaigned against the city's controversial PX plant during a popular environmental protest movement that saw mass demonstrations in August 2010, stood trial at the city's Pulandian District Court on Friday, his wife Jiang Yingfeng said on Tuesday.

Qiu and five other activists and petitioners were charged with "deliberately concocting false information to terrorize the public," and with "libel," Jiang said.

She said the trial had been ended prematurely by the judge, who warned the defendants that high-ranking officials were pushing for a result in their case, and called on them to confess.

So far, Qiu has denied the charges, Jiang said.

"The judge called in the lawyers and told them to have their clients confess, because someone higher up was impatient for a verdict," she said.

"The charges were dictated by the leadership," she said. "The judge even said that they could issue a verdict without a court hearing."

"When we approached the judge for an explanation, he wouldn't give us the time of day."

Qiu had been a vocal critic of the Dalian authorities during the campaign, accusing officials of lying to the people about a possible threat to public health from the PX facility.

She said she was disappointed in the new Chinese leadership under president-in-waiting Xi Jinping and premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang.

"I had thought there might be some new hope with the new leadership, but the local authorities are still refusing to hear any dissenting voices," Jiang said.

"My husband tried to tell them that the petrochemical plant was affecting people's health, but they wouldn't listen," she said. "The more you resist, the harder they crack down on you."

Repeated calls to the Pulandian District People's Court went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

Ningbo protests

Last October, authorities in the eastern city of Ningbo detained more than 50 people following days of violent protests against the expansion of a petrochemical plant similar to the one in Dalian.

City officials said 51 people were detained by police, mostly in connection with attacks on police officers and damage to police vehicles during protests in Zhenhai township, the planned location of the paraxylene (PX) plant.

Ningbo's vice-mayor Chen Zhongchao promised at the time to conduct an environmental impact assessment, survey public opinion and hold a public hearing on the project.

Around the same time, reports emerged in the Hong Kong media that PX production had been stepped up at the Dalian plant in spite of pledges by the local government to remove the plant following protests by more than 10,000 people in August 2011.

Production at the Dalian plant had increased from 700,000 metric tons annually, to 1.4 million metric tons, the Eastern Daily News reported.

However, the Dalian Fujia Dahua Petrochemical Co., which runs the plant, denied the report.

PX, or paraxylene, is a toxic petrochemical used in polyester products.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.