Protests Enter Fifth Day in China's Rebel Village of Wukan

china-wukan-06232016.jpg Residents of Wukan village take to the streets in protest, June 23, 2016.
Photo courtesy of a local resident.

Thousands of residents of the rebel Chinese village of Wukan continued their protests into a fifth day on Thursday over the detention of their leader and the loss of their land.

Carrying Chinese national flags and banners in support of 70-year-old former ruling Chinese Communist Party village secretary Lin Zuluan, residents chanted "Give us back our land! Give us back our party secretary!" and "Lin Zuluan is innocent!"

The latest protests began on Sunday, when thousands of Wukan residents took to the streets after Lin was detained in a late raid on his home last week.

He has since made a televised "confession" to taking bribes, but local people have dismissed it as a trumped-up charge, with his confession made under duress.

"We are all here demonstrating together. There are probably around 5,000 people here," a protester who asked to remain anonymous told RFA on Thursday.

"We are marching around Wukan. Just now, as we were marching, I saw a lot of cars parked on the road, belonging to the state security police," he said. "Things are pretty tense here right now, but we are not going to give up fighting for our rights."

"We will keep demonstrating until we get a proper response from the government," he said.

A former Wukan resident surnamed Yang, who is in touch with the protesters back home, said foreign journalists in Wukan are expected to leave on Friday.

"This is their own decision; so far we haven't seen any directive ordering them away from the authorities," Yang said. "But some of the major world news organizations have reporters there, and they've said they plan to leave."

Yang said local people fear that the authorities will force their way into the village and start detaining people, once the journalists leave.

"They are worried that the authorities will use a certain amount of force once the journalists are gone," he said. "Some of the villagers are already preparing for that."

Nobody believes government

Repeated calls to municipal government offices in nearby Lufeng, which administers Wukan, rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

However, an Wukan village official told RFA that local residents had "misunderstood" the government's actions.

"We have set up a task force to explain all of this to them as best we can," the official said, but he said the majority appeared not to believe the government's line on Lin's detention.

"A lot of them just don't want to know, don't want to listen or even hear us out," the official said. "It's very confrontational."

Meanwhile, two rights lawyers hired by Lin's family to represent him said they have been denied access to their client, and warned off taking the case by local authorities.

Prosecutors have accused Lin of "pocketing a large sum of money" through contracting village infrastructure projects.

But local people remember earlier clashes in 2011, when Lin directed a series of non-violent protests over the mass selloff of land by his predecessor Xue Chang, during which protester Xue Jinbo died in police custody, igniting mass displays of public mourning that further kindled public anger.

London-based Amnesty International on Wednesday urged its members to write to the Chinese government out of concern for Lin's right to freedom of expression.

It called on members to "[urge] authorities to not charge Lin Zuluan for simply exercising his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," the group said in an Urgent Action statement on its website.

Members should also call on authorities "to ensure that while in detention Lin Zuluan has regular, unrestricted access to his family and lawyers of his choice, and is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment," it said.

The government should also be asked to end "illegal land seizures," the notice said.

In 2011, Wukan's villagers manned barricades to stop police from entering their homes and detaining any more people.

Their cause was eventually taken up by the Guangdong provincial authorities, who overruled local officials in Lufeng, removing Xue Chang from his post on corruption charges and ordering a one person, one vote election for his replacement.

However, while Lin was appointed head of the village committee, and several of the 2011 protest leaders were elected as a result, very little was done to retrieve Wukan's lost farmland, villagers said.

Then, in July 2014, former protest leaders Hong Ruichao and Yang Semao, who had both served on the newly elected village committee, were jailed for four and two years respectively for "accepting bribes." Relatives said the charges against them were trumped-up by local officials in an act of political revenge.

Earlier this month, villagers had apparently persuaded Lin out of retirement to mastermind a new land petition campaign, which he has always insisted must be orderly and respectful of the law.

But his detention pre-empted a planned public meeting, and set Sunday's renewed street protests in motion.

Reported by Wong Lok-to and Gok Man-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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