Reporters Beaten in Zhejiang

Land protests in an eastern Chinese province are reminiscent of the recent dispute in the rebel Guangdong village of Wukan.

2012-02-17
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Photo: RFA

Foreign journalists trying to cover recent land protests in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have been attacked in recent days by unidentified men, a New York-based press freedom monitor said.

Dutch reporter Remko Tanis was kicked and beaten in a village near Wenzhou city on Wednesday by a large group of men he believes were plainclothes police and hired thugs, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement.

Tanis, who works for the Netherlands Press Association out of Shanghai, had been interviewing residents of Panhe village, who have staged a number of protests in recent weeks against the seizure and sale of local farmland by the government.

The Shanghai-based blog Shanghaiist also reported similar attacks on France 24 reporter Baptiste Fallevoz and researcher Jack Zhang.

A group of around 20 to 30 men surrounded their car, removed the two journalists and beat Zhang on the head with his video camera until he bled, Shanghaiist reported.

Police blamed rival villagers for the attack, and reimbursed the journalists for the damage caused, the blog said.

Tanis sustained fewer injuries than Zhang, apparently because he was a foreigner, the CPJ said.

Building surrounded

The attacks happened after a group of around 100 men soon surrounded a village building where Tanis was interviewing local people, breaking the windows and kicking down the doors.

"They dragged me out of the room into the other area of this building, into a wet market," Tanis told CPJ by telephone from Shanghai. "There were about 20 or 30 people surrounding me, each taking their turn beating or kicking me."

He said a local woman present at the scene was thrown to the floor and kicked brutally by a large group of men, however.

"I tried to ask them, 'Who are you?' and 'On whose authority are you acting?'" Tanis told CPJ by telephone from Shanghai. "Every question was answered with a kick or another beating."

The men took the memory card from Tanis' camera, as well as notebooks and other documents, the group said.

Tanis said he was later attacked again by a group of men as he sat in a car with an official claiming to be from the local Cangnan county foreign affairs bureau, who told him he was "making trouble."

Hundreds of people in Panhe have been protesting the seizure and sale of village land by the local government in recent weeks.

Well-organized protests

Villagers have turned out in their hundreds in recent weeks in a series of orderly and well-organized protests against land sales reminiscent of the recent dispute in the rebel Guangdong village of Wukan.

A large crowd of more than 1,000 people took to the streets on Feb. 6, with banners which said: "The village committee is using public resources for personal gain," "Down with corruption!" and "Clean up the village committee!"

Chanting "You sold our land!" and "Down with corruption!" they marched to the headquarters of the village branch committee of China's ruling Communist Party.

Residents say officials have sold off around a fifth of the village's 5,000 mu (300 hectares) of agricultural land, which is usually held collectively by China's farming communities and leased to individual households under 30-year "responsibility" contracts.

"I have been out in protest a number of times," said a villager surnamed Lu in a recent interview. "Each time there have been at least 1,000 people there."

"Our main demands are that our land was sold off by corrupt officials and the villagers didn't get a penny of the proceeds," he said.

"We want a clear answer from the government; we will definitely go after the village committee."

Officials flee

A second villager who declined to be named said that local officials appeared to have fled the scene.

"Ever since we started to fight for our rights...the village committee offices have been empty," he said. "I don't even know why."

An employee who answered the phone at the Sanhe village police station said he knew nothing of the protests, and declined to comment.

Repeated calls to the village committee offices went unanswered during office hours last week.

Violent protests by Wukan villagers last December against unscrupulous land grabs and rigged elections sparked rare concessions following an investigation by the provincial government of Guangdong, which concluded that most of the villagers' demands and complaints were fair.

The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments sparks thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, but many result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government's wishes.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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