WASHINGTON�A farmer in China�s southern Guangdong Province told a packed courtroom authorities had questioned him continuously for more than 10 days and forced him to admit inciting others to try and stop the county from seizing their farmland in exchange for well below what the land would bring on the open market, RFA�s Cantonese service reports.
Lau Shucan testified Dec. 17 at Xinxing County Court, along with two other farmers, Su Zhiquan and Gu Jinai, on charges of �inciting local people to stop government work.� More than 100 people tried to squeeze into the courtroom, which seats only 26, witnesses said. Gu in particular looked haggard and weak at the trial, they said.
�My husband spoke during the trial, saying he was interrogated nonstop for more than 10 days,� Lau�s wife, Lau Ruyan, said in an interview. �[He said] they forced him to admit that he had �incited people against the government.' Our lawyer pointed out in the court that the government forced this illegal land deal on people.�
�People have a right to protect their land. The people selected my husband and the others as their representative to negotiate with the government,� she said. �The authorities have no grounds to charge him and the other two.�
Lau�s wife�who hasn�t been allowed to visit her husband since he was jailed in August�also said a written statement submitted by the government appeared to have been fabricated�but the court barred the family�s lawyer from cross-examining anyone the government said had signed them. One witness whose named appeared four times in the government statement, Liu Chaopeng, denied in an interview ever speaking to the government about the case at all.
The trial last week came as several hundred farmers in Xinxing County are struggling to make ends meet after authorities seized their farmland at below-market prices to make way for new development. Farmers from Din and Daoji villages say they are filing an appeal with the Guangdong Provincial High Court to overturn the county court decision rejecting their request to get their land back. In their appeal they are asking for the return of their land and for the government to stop leveling it.
The 30 named plaintiffs are seeking only the return of their land without punitive damages, the sources said. �We asked the county officials to show the court any legal documents allowing them to take the land away from us. They said they had none,� one plaintiff said in an interview. A single county legal official testified for the defense but failed to specify for what purpose the land was to be used.
The Yunfu District Court gave an indecisive verdict in mid-November in favor of Xinxing County but declined to stop the government from seizing the land and paying each farmer 3,000 yuan (U.S. $362) for each mu (0.06 hectare) of hill land and 20,000 yuan (U.S. $2,416) for each mu of arable farmland.
County officials, accompanied by police, arrived at the land in question in Ding and Daoji villages before dawn on Aug. 15, with bulldozers, residents said in separate interviews. When a group of farmers tried to block the bulldozers, the chief of local police pushed one of them, 58-year-old Sun Zhicai, into a pond, witnesses said. Sun died in hospital several hours later after what officials described as a heart attack, although an autopsy found five of his ribs had been broken.
�The government said he was too excited, so he had a heart attack,� one man said in an interview. �But our peasants saw him struck down by a police stick and pushed down to a pond where he died instantly.�
Sun�s relatives and other farmers then carried his body to demonstrate in front of the county government building and demand proof of the county�s legal authority to bulldoze and reclaim their land. No government representative came to meet with them, and police arrested five of the protesters�including two of Sun�s brothers. According to one of the brothers, who spoke with RFA after his release, they were held for a month and then released on condition that they wouldn�t blame the county for Sun�s death or discuss the incident publicly. The brother said the government compensated them for their brother's death and threatened that they would charge the brothers if they didn't keep quiet.
According to local sources, the county government served Ding and Daoji villages with eviction notices in August 2003, ordering them to surrender 1,600 mu (263 acres) of land for compulsory sale at well below market rates.
The farmers, who rely on this land for their livelihoods, began sitting outside government offices in nearby Xinxing Township in the hope of talking to officials. Sun�s death and the arrests occurred during this time.
In an earlier interview, Mrs. Lau said the family would have no land and no livelihood left if they complied with the government�s request. �I have no job, and I can�t find a job,� she said. �We asked the county officials to show us the legal document allowing them to take over our land, but they won�t even show us the right document. All my husband did was sit in front of the county building peacefully.�
The requisition of land by local governments and state-owned enterprises has become one of the most controversial topics in both urban and rural areas in China, as new roads, factories, and housing and office developments have sprung up nationwide. Local residents evicted from their homes often complain of poor government compensation and forceful removals, while many accuse the government of cashing in on the real estate market at their expense. Some residents� groups in urban areas have lodged class-action suits against local governments and developers.
Chinese attorneys and legal scholars have denounced the now-widespread aggressive demolition and relocation practices as government-sponsored thuggery, which China�s weak judicial system is failing to check. ###