HONG KONG—Several hundred policemen stormed farmland in a southern Chinese village on Tuesday, bulldozing crops and beating and detaining villagers, according to witnesses.
The police officers, who donned riot gear during the raid, were dispatched by authorities to appropriate land in Shuangren village, outside of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region’s Liuzhou city.
Villager Chen Qinglong said his mother Qin Shuiying was taken away by police in the clash.
“The [Liuzhou] city authorities ordered the forced land seizure today, sending an army of 500 security personnel, police officers, fire fighters, and armed police, along with 50 bulldozers,” Chen said.
“We knew they would come and waited for them on our land from 4 a.m.,” he added.
“A villager got beaten up. My mother was detained. All the arrested were taken to Liuzhou city.”
Another villager named Qin Shujin provided more details of the attack.
“Police took two dozen people into custody in Liuzhou. They were carrying a large banner on the way to the township government office when they were stopped by police. The two banner carriers were beaten up and injured,” he said.
Qin said that police targeted all villagers, regardless of whether or not they had signed an earlier compensation agreement.
“The bulldozers leveled everything in their way, no matter whether you signed or not, or took the compensation money or not,” Qin said.
“When they came, we tried to argue with their bosses, asking ‘Why are you destroying our crops?’ But the land was surrounded by police and we had no way to deal with them,” he said.
A third villager, named Liao Binfeng, from nearby Luorong township said villagers were completely outnumbered by authorities during the confrontation.
“There were about 400 to 500 people, including police, there. They had dogs to guard at the entrance of the road,” Liao said.
“A villager was beaten up. I don’t know his condition. About 30 people have been arrested. They arrested them this morning and have not released them yet,” he said.
One employee who answered the telephone at the Luorong township office said he knew nothing about the incident before hanging up.
But another staffer at the same office initially denied force had been used to occupy the farmers’ land and said no one had been arrested in the incident.
“We didn’t grab the land. We did no such thing,” she said.
When told that photos showing the clash had been obtained, the woman said she was unaware of the events.
“I don’t know about this. I did not personally see this incident.”
Land sale unapproved
Villagers say the Liuzhou city government made a secret arrangement in September last year with Shuangren village chief Qin Jianlin to secretly sell nearly 10,000 mu (1,650 acres) of their land to a company for commercial development as an automobile factory.
Villager Chen Xinlong said the Luorong township government claimed at the time that it had received provincial permission to obtain the land for sale.
The Guangxi Provincial Bureau of Land Management later told village representatives that the land trade was not approved and was thus illegal.
Chen said that after reports about the sale surfaced, the township government initially promised the 300 residents of Shuangren village 500,000 yuan (U.S. $73,000) each in compensation, but eventually forced the villagers to sign an agreement for a reduced amount.
“According to the state law, the money for land compensation has to go directly to the farmers’ accounts. But this did not happen,” Chen said.
"[The township government] used an official’s name to open a new account. All the compensation went to that account and then was distributed from that account to the farmers. They made the decisions about who they wanted to give money to and how much they wanted to give,” he said.
Chen said the villagers are all dependent on farming the land, but will be unable to make ends meet now that the government has damaged their crops.
Another villager who asked to remain anonymous said the deal was kept secret to prevent disclosure of the amount of money involved.
“They didn’t publicize the deal. The developers paid 310,000,000 yuan (U.S. $45.6 million) for the tract of land. But we didn’t get the money—that went to the village chief. The chief gave us money according to his own will.”
A third villager said Qin’s cousin, who is not a resident of the village, also received money because he is the deputy director of the township land expropriation office.
“The village chief and his two cousins amassed 1,500,000 yuan (U.S. $221,000) in total in the deal,” the villager said.
Qin Jianlin hung up when telephoned for comment on the clash and his involvement in the land deal.
Land disputes common
Profits from new property developments in China can swell local coffers and boost tax revenues to the central government in Beijing.
China's "Regulation on Petitions," issued by the State Council, states that petitioners may voice their grievances to higher-level government offices.
But those trying to do so are frequently held in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," before being taken back to their hometowns.
Many petitioners have spent years pursuing complaints against local officials over disputes including the loss of homes and farmland, unpaid wages and pensions, and alleged mistreatment by the authorities.
Few report getting a satisfactory result, and most say they have become a target of further harassment by the authorities.
Land disputes have spread across China in recent years, with local people often complaining that they receive only minimal compensation when the government sells tracts to developers in lucrative property deals or evicts them from their homes in downtown areas.
Attempts to occupy disputed property frequently result in violent clashes, as police and armed gangs are brought in to enforce the will of local officials.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service and RFA’s Cantonese service. Translated by Ping Chen and Shiny Li. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.