Rebel Village Mobilizes Again Over Detention of Protest Leader

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china-wukan-0620.jpg Wukan villagers sign petition demanding the release of protest leader Lin Zuluan and return of their farmland.
Photo sent by a villager

Residents of the rebel village of Wukan in China's southern Guangdong province have once more clashed with police, reigniting a bitter land dispute that saw days of street protests and clashes in 2011.

The protests came after Wukan party secretary and former protest leader Lin Zuluan was taken away by armed police ahead of a public meeting scheduled for Sunday, at which villagers were to plan further protests over a lack of official progress in returning their farmland.

Local officials said via social media that Lin is now under investigation for taking bribes.

Lin's detention sparked angry protests on Sunday in Wukan, with protesters chanting "Give us back our land!" and "Give us back our party secretary!"

"They had no reason whatsoever to detain our party secretary," one protester told RFA at the scene. "We are very worried because he is nowhere to be seen."

"Nobody here believes that he is corrupt."

The resident said the authorities had made no move to restore land sold out from under the villagers by the previous party secretary, who was charged with corruption in 2011.

"They still haven't given us back our land," the resident said. "The whole village is here to protect our home and to get our party secretary back, because he is a good one."

'Coercive measures'

The Lufeng city government, which tried to tamp down protests in Wukan but was overruled by Guangdong provincial authorities after the 2011 clashes grabbed world headlines, issued a statement saying Lin had been placed "under coercive measures" pending investigation for corruption.

Lin had earlier written via the social media platform Sina Weibo, in a tweet that was soon deleted by censors: "The road to defending our rights is a long one, but we will see it through to the end, even if we are on our knees."

One user commented: "We shouldn't kneel! We should stand up and fight for our rights!"

Lin's grandson said his grandfather had been visited by a former official from nearby Donghai township, who had tried to persuade him to call off the public meeting.

The former official then left without his cell phone, but when the door was opened for him to collect it, around a dozen armed police burst into the Lin family home and took Lin Zuluan away, he said in an interview on Sunday.

"He brought back at least 10 armed police with him. It was a well-laid trap," the grandson said in an interview on Sunday. "They just shoved their way into the house the moment the door was opened."

However, Lin's grandson was incommunicado on Monday, sending out only a brief message via the messaging app WeChat, which read simply: "I've been detained."

Meeting goes ahead

Villagers went ahead with the public meeting on Sunday, following Lin's plan to use orderly protest and petitioning to keep their campaign going.

They also succeeded in stopping armed police from entering the village, residents said.

"There were large numbers of police," a journalist covering the scene said in a brief conversation on Monday.

"You can try to come here yourself, but the police are kicking all the journalists out," she said.

While villagers managed to stop many police officers from getting through, some did make it into the village, sources said.

"We are basically back to where we were five years ago with the land dispute," a resident surnamed Zhang told RFA. "The dispute wasn't resolved then, and the villagers' land had been sold off, but they received no money in return."

"Now, things are back to where they were back then, and local people are barricading the roads," Zhang said.

Lin's deputy village party secretary Zhang Shuijin said that the government had set up a working group to retrieve the lost land, and that it was "looking into" the matter.

"This issue can't be resolved by anyone but the government," Zhang Shuijin said. "Only the government can fix this; the village committee hasn't the power to do it."

Zhang was noncommittal regarding the charges faced by Lin Zuluan.

"I can't say," he said. "If he did it, the investigation will show it, and if he didn't, it won't."

Earlier clashes

Wukan hit media headlines in 2011 after local people fought off armed police at makeshift barricades, retaining control of their village and prompting provincial officials in Guangdong to back their demands over the heads of authorities in nearby Lufeng city.

Local people were then allowed to re-elect their village committee and its officials in March 2012, with former protest leaders replacing the old guard in a highly publicized poll that was held up as a model of village democracy in rural China.

Former ruling Communist Party village secretary Xue Chang, whom villagers accused of selling off most of their farmland for private gain, was later removed from office and disciplined for corruption.

But subsequent committees made scant progress on the issue of returning the farmland to villagers' control, and two of the protest's leaders were jailed for corruption in 2014 based on dubious evidence, campaigners said.

A third land campaigner, Zhuang Liehong, fled to the United States in search of political asylum.

An official who answered the phone at the Lufeng city state prosecutor's office declined to comment on the latest incident.

"I don't know about this ... but there will be announcements on the situation," the official said.

Calls to the Lufeng government offices and the Lufeng municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

Reported by Dai Weisen and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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