Activist's Death 'An Accident'

But Chinese netizens believe the land-rights advocate and village chief was deliberately killed.

china-land-activist-305.jpg Online manga art depicting Qian as a hero.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have sentenced a truck driver to three-and-a-half years in prison over the death of a local village chief and political activist amid widespread allegations that he was assassinated.

Fei Liangyu, an unlicensed driver,  was sentenced on Tuesday by the Yueqing Municipal People's Court for "accidentally" running over Qian Yunhui,  who was the elected head of Zhaiqiao village and a vocal opponent of the sale of local land to make way for a new power station, official media reported.

The case sparked widespread suspicion over the scripted quality of the proceedings and the emergence of previously unheard-of video footage of the accident.

The shaky video footageshot by a figure walking down a road and broadcast repeatedly by state-run CCTVended with the image being severely jarred and, finally, a shot of a truck's wheel.

Qian's lawyer, Si Weijiang, said he was dissatisfied with the result.

"I don't accept today's decision," Si said on Tuesday. But he declined to comment further. "This will get me into trouble," he said.

Was video faked?

Wu Gan, a prominent online activist known on the Internet by his nickname "The Butcher," said that Chinese netizens believe the video was faked by the government to underscore the official line that Qian had died in a simple hit-and-run accident.

"Netizens believe that the video contains faked-up elements," said Wu. "I believe that the court proceedings went according to a predetermined script."

"It did nothing to further edify the public. In fact, it has excited further suspicion," he said.

Online comments pointed to the lack of sound in the video and the brevity of the footage, saying the video, even if it was from Qian's wristwatch camera as claimed, was heavily edited.

Repeated calls to the cell phone of Qian's son, Qian Chengxu, went unanswered on Tuesday.

Local sources said the family boycotted the trial because they were unable to accept the official version of events.

Qian, 53, died instantly on Dec. 25 when he was run over by a truck.

Photos purporting to show his mangled remains were circulated by Chinese netizens, sparking widespread speculation that Qian had been the victim of a planned assassination linked to his role in the local land dispute.

Fei was detained by police after hundreds of villagers clashed with authorities at a major intersection between the towns of Hongqiao and Puqi last month, sparking a widespread reaction online.

Villagers not compensated

Qian had lobbied provincial authorities several times on behalf of the residents of Zhaiqiao village, who say an energy company has yet to compensate them for seizing hundreds of acres of their land.

Shortly afterwards, a team of investigators from a top Beijing-based public interest legal firm sparked further anger when they visited the area and concluded that Qian could have died in an accident after all.

Yueqing city was under tight restrictions both before and after the investigation, making enquiries and investigations extremely difficult, according to local residents.

Qian's long-term campaign for compensation began in 2005, after nearly 150 hectares (370 acres) of land was seized by Zhejiang Provincial Energy Group.

Villagers told the official Global Times newspaper that they had yet to receive any of the 65 million yuan (U.S. $10 million) that was promised them in compensation.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Gai Lei Sze for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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