Minority Hui Muslims in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin have relaunched a protest campaign over alleged corruption surrounding years of property deals by ruling Chinese Communist Party officials in their neighborhood.
The community of around 20,000 Hui Muslims took their protest in recent days to the Tianmu village committee in Tianjin's Beichen district in a bid to remove a village-level official they accuse of decades of corrupt dealings at their expense.
The protests come after a campaign for the recall of Communist Party village secretary Mu Xiangyou amid allegations of graft linked to land disputes that have dragged on for more than 30 years.
"We all went there to try to meet with village officials to ask them what happened to all of the land in Tianmu village," a resident who asked to remain anonymous told RFA.
"We started out by filing an official complaint with the township complaints office, and then we took their response to the Tianmu village committee, but we didn't manage to find anyone there," the resident said.
"Finally, they sent three people to talk to us, but they weren't the ones in charge."
He said Tianmu deputy village secretary Qiao Fei had become violent during the meeting, and threw a thermos flask to the ground.
"These people are all in cahoots with the Tianmu village committee and have huge vested interests," the resident said. "They were just minions, sent to stall us."
Local residents have detailed a litany of violent, forced evictions and demolitions of their homes, opaque accounting practices and the loss of huge tracts of collectively owned village land.
But while Mu Xiangyou has taken a back seat in village politics, he remains a delegate to China's parliament, the National People's Congress, residents said.
"The forced evictions have halted for the time being, but the Tianmu committee hasn't paid out a penny [in compensation] since we began fighting for our rights in 2015," the anonymous resident said.
"He's not acting as a village official for the time being, but he has just appointed his cronies instead," he said.
He said that while the government had made payments of a few thousand yuan (1,000 yuan = U.S. $145) each to people over retirement age, they had said it was a salary subsidy, and unrelated to the loss of their homes and land.
Tianmu has also had no village elections to give local people a chance to vote out the current set of officials.
Lack of oversight
Tianjin rights activist Wang Zhongxiang said he has been following the attempts by Tianmu residents to win redress, and he blames the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing for not doing enough to curb local officials.
"This sort of thing may be happening at the village level, but it has its roots in the central leadership," Wang said.
"I have witnessed meetings of village-level and township party committees that agree to find no irregularities," he said. "They are covering up their own abuses of power."
"The party secretary of Tianmu village is still a member of the NPC," he said. "So many complaints have been lodged against him by so many people."
"He has had complaints lodged against him at the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, at the NPC and at the prosecutor's office," Wang said. "And yet nobody is willing to make any kind of real response."
Tianmu is one of China's most prominent Muslim communities, and its residents say they have suffered enough amid a massive urban real estate boom in recent decades.
Residents had hoped to bring Mu Xiangyou to justice on the back of a nationwide anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping after taking power in November 2012, but to no avail.
Tianmu residents have filed petitions to central government in Beijing over the loss of some 3,000 mu (494 acres) of farmland to Mu Xiangyou's property deals, leaving them with just 100 mu (16 acres).
Some 7,000-8,000 mu (1153-1318 acres) of land zoned for residential use has also passed out of local residents' hands, they said.
Tianmu campaigners estimate that Mu has made four billion yuan (U.S. $581.2 million) personally out of land and property sales to developers over the past three decades.
President Xi Jinping has vowed to go after both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies" in a nationwide anti-graft campaign. But the party regards any popular involvement in the anti-corruption campaign as highly sensitive and potentially threatening, and has sent large numbers of anti-graft and other rights activists to jail in recent years.
The requisitioning of land and forced evictions linked to lucrative property deals by cash-strapped local governments trigger thousands of mass protests and petitions across China every year. Many result in violent suppression and the detention of the main organizers.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.