Villagers Hold Back Bulldozers

Farmers in central China are in a tense standoff with officials who want to bulldoze their fields, as evicted Shanghai residents accuse a large property developer of illegally detaining them.

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HONG KONGVillagers in China's central Hubei province are holding off local government attempts to seize a large area of farmland for development, while rural communities near Shanghai complain of illegal detentions at the hands of a major property developer.

The dispute began in April with the announcement that the 21.5 hectares (53 acres) of land currently used for vegetable farming was slated for development, because local officials wanted to build a community recreation center.

Last month, around 900 vegetable farmers protested the move in clashes with police in which scores of farmers were injured and one detained by the authorities for 10 days.

“The land acquisition process is illegal," one farmer surnamed Wei said. "The local government changed the reason for the land acquisition several times, from building up a gymnasium to a performing arts center, to a community recreation center. They are cheating."

"This tract of land is allotted for public service to become a local recreation center. All compensation is according to government rules."
Wuxue municipal government official

Wei said sources close to officials in Lujiafan village and nearby Wuxue city had told him the government was already planning to transfer the land once it was acquired and sell it to a third party.

Compensation 'too low'

"Half of the land will be used to build up a gym, and the other half for development projects," Wei said.

Another villager said the farmers refused to accept the terms the government was offering. "The authorities came to take over the land, we resisted and they have now stopped," said the farmer, surnamed Huang. "The compensation they offered was too low."

An official at the Wuxue municipal government confirmed that the land had not yet been acquired by the authorities.

"This tract of land is allotted for public service to become a local recreation center. All compensation is according to government rules," he said.

Villagers are planning to make a complaint directly to the central government in Beijing, for fear the authorities will make another attempt to seize the land.

In Shanghai, local residents say they have been illegally detained by a large property developer in a dispute over land.

Failed lawsuits by evictees

Chen Huikai, of Shanghai's Luwan district, said his home was demolished in June 2006 along with 3,200 others when two property developers started forced demolitions in order to build a commercial office skyscraper.

At least three residents, including Chen and his wife, who opposed the demolition and tried to take their case to Beijing were repeatedly abducted by the developer and held in a location in the suburbs.

"The third kidnapping happened when my wife petitioned the State Council in Beijing. On the train back from Beijing, she was kidnapped by employees of Anjia Dongqian, the developer," Chen said.

"They took her to a dog ranch in Fengxian county, in suburban Shanghai, and confiscated her cellphone."

Chen's wife was finally released with help from police after being detained for 178 hours. "Two days later, both my wife and I were kidnapped again," he said.

Chen wrote letters to government departments to voice his grievances and seek justice, but his case drew little attention, and all his letters were referred back to the same developer.

Backlash against petitioners

"We sued the developer for illegal detention, but the developer is backed up by the relocation office," Chen said. "Who gave them the right to kidnap and to detain people? Some petitioners were even detained as long as 20-30 days. We petitioned the police and local court, but no one listened to our complaints."

Chen said Anjia Dongqian, the developer, beat him when he went to Beijing the fifth time, blinding him in one eye.

Calls to Anjia Dongqian went unanswered during office hours Tuesday.

Another resident, Jin Qiying, backed up Chen's story. "I will never forget what we suffered at the hands of the developers and the relocation office," Jin said.

"I really cannot understand why we always lose the lawsuit against the developer. Every time we petition in Beijing, they detain us. The last time I was taken to a dog ranch, together with Chen Huikai’s wife," he said.

Lack of judicial independence and rampant corruption and protectionism have forced people to seek redress from the central government in Beijing over alleged wrongdoing by local officials. These cases are often connected to land disputes and few are successfully resolved.

China’s leaders have said publicly that they believe the majority of petitioners are pursuing valid complaints against local officials. But local authorities run an efficient system for monitoring any of their residents planning to take a grievance to the capital, and frequently detain and escort such petitioners back to their hometowns from Beijing.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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