Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are moving ahead with the trials of more than 40 people detained during a crackdown in September on the rebel village of Wukan, ending months of daily mass protests over the loss of farmland and the detention of a protest leader.
More than 70 people were detained in the village after riot police fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets in a massive dawn raid on Sept. 13 that put an end to any overt opposition in the village.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 riot police stormed Wukan, which is administered by nearby Lufeng city. Some 40 people remain in police-run detention centers in nearby Lufeng and Haifeng counties, Zhuang Liehong, the son of one of the detainees, told RFA.
According to a court statement from Haifeng county obtained by a former Wukan resident in the United States and seen by RFA, a group of nine defendants were tried on Dec. 17: Wei Yonghan, Yang Jinzhen, Hong Yongzhong, Wu Fang, Zhuang Songkun, Cai Jialin, Li Chulu, Chen Suzhuan and Zhang Bingchai.
Repeated calls to the Haifeng County People's Court rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
The statement says that Wei Yonghan and Yang Jinhan were accused of "organizing and inciting the villagers of Wukan to attend illegal meetings, demonstrations."
"As a result of these activities, the normal life of the village, including market stalls, local businesses and fishing vessels, was halted, having a serious impact on the normal life of Wukan, and on public order," it said.
It accused Wei of inciting villagers and "other members of the public" to confrontation with police, throwing stones and bricks at them, and injuring police officers on duty.
Protesters Li Chulu, Cai Jialin and Zhuang Songkun "rode their motorcycles to intercept passing vehicles, causing serious disruption to traffic," it said.
It said fellow protester Zhang Bingchai had "published false information via WeChat and manufactured rumors, which had a deleterious effect in the community."
During the trials, the case was heard from both the prosecution and the defense, with the defendants making a final statement, the statement said.
The court has adjourned to consider the verdicts and sentencing, it said.
Marked as a 'ringleader'
Zhuang Liehong told RFA on Tuesday that Wei Yonghan is accused of using a bullhorn during the clashes, which meant the prosecution marked him as a "ringleader."
"Wei Yonghan said in court that they could lock him up for as long as they liked; if they weren't going to give Wukan back its more than 20,000 mu of farmland, they wouldn't hear a word of complaint from him," Zhuang said.
He said his father was accused of being a protest leader during the trial.
"My father Zhuang Songkun rode his electric bike along beside the crowds, so the government said he was also an important organizer," Zhuang said. "But he rode it because he can't walk very well. The court officials also said my father and Cai Jialin conspired to create this incident."
Zhuang said all nine defendants had pleaded not guilty during the trial.
"Not one of them would confess to the charges," he said.
He said a second group of 13 defendants is currently awaiting trial together at a detention center in Lufeng county.
He said one of them, an elderly woman called Wu Fang, had been taken to the hospital recently with high blood pressure.
"She has been taken to the emergency room several times during her detention; she had high blood pressure to start with," Zhuang said. "
News of the trials appears to have been restricted, with Wukan residents unaware that they had taken place.
"I hadn't heard about this, so I don't know anything about it," a Wukan resident surnamed Zhang told RFA. "They didn't inform us, but then I'm not related to any of the defendants, so why would they inform me?"
Campaigning for the return of land
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.
Zhuang said the crackdown is an attempt by newly arrived Guangdong provincial chief Hu Chunhua to stamp his authority on the province to boost his standing with the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing.
"Hu Chunhua ... wants to show that he's one of the hardliners, so as to make his reputation," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.