More than 10 villagers who opposed a coal-fired power plant in China's southern island province of Hainan have been sent to labor camp, residents said on Tuesday, as work goes ahead on the controversial project after the sentencing of a prominent environmentalist.
"Dozens of villagers were detained at the time of the clashes, and more than 10 villagers were sent for re-education through labor," a resident of Yinggehai township, near the location of the power plant in the southwest of the island.
"Some were sentenced for a year, and some went for a year and three months," said the resident, who gave only his surname Xing. "There are still more than 10 villagers still under detention."
"We don't know when they will be released."
He said local residents no longer dared to impede work on the estimated 1.9 billion yuan (U.S. $301 million) nationally commissioned power station, which has been vocally opposed by thousands of residents of Hainan's Ledong county since a consultation exercise at the beginning of the year.
Work began on the plant shortly after a Haikou court handed a three-year suspended jail term to former forestry official Liu Futang, who led a campaign against the plant.
Liu 64, was detained in July and released this month after he was handed a suspended jail term for "conducting illegal business" after he wrote and self-published a book about local opposition to the project. He is now nursing ill health at home, his friends said this month.
'Everyone is frightened'
Xing said opposition to the plant appeared to have petered out.
"None of the villagers dares to obstruct work on the plant," he said. "They feel as if there's nothing more to be done."
He said police were still monitoring the cell phones of large numbers of local residents, who have clashed with armed police firing tear-gas several times this year.
"If you so much as mention the coal-fired power plant, the authorities will send someone to pick you up and take you in for questioning," Xing said. "A lot of the villagers who got sent to labor camp were innocent, and hadn't even said anything; they had merely asked about the plant."
"But even they were sent to labor camp, so everyone is very frightened," he added.
Repeated calls to the cell phones of other Yinggehai residents went unanswered on Tuesday, or resulted in a message saying the phone had been switched off.
An official who answered the phone at the Yinggehai township government offices declined to comment, while calls to the township press office rang unanswered during office hours.
Environmentalist in poor health
Liu's son declined to speak to RFA on Tuesday, either.
"Sorry, but it's not convenient for me to give interviews," he said, using a phrase that often indicates government pressure or police surveillance.
A close friend of Liu's, who gave only his surname Zhang, said Liu and his wife were now planning to go back to his hometown in the northern province of Hebei, as the elderly couple were both suffering from ill health.
"He had a terrible time during his detention, and he is in very poor health, both physically and mentally," Zhang said.
"They want to leave Hainan as soon as they can," he said.
A veteran member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and former director of Hainan's forest fire prevention office, Liu dared to challenge central government directives and angered local officials for investigating residents' opposition to the power plant.
Residents and officials confirmed earlier this month that work had begun on the plant.
Hainan authorities changed their minds several times about the location of the plant since January, when it met with fierce opposition from residents of Yinggehai, who clashed with police on a number of occasions.
The planned site then moved to Foluo and Huangliu townships in the same county, meeting with similar resistance there earlier this year.
When protests against the plant escalated in Foluo township in April, one website reported residents had stormed a government building and smashed up offices and dormitories.
Residents reported dozens of injuries from beatings and tear gas at the hands of riot police amid clashes sparked by a number of earlier arrests over opposition to the project.
The government said in October that the project, which was initially proposed in 2007 but only approved last November, would go ahead in Yinggehai as previously planned.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.