Images from a video sent by a witness of clashes in Guangning county, Guangdong province.
HONG KONG—Police fired tear-gas and detained more than a dozen villagers in China’s southern Guangdong province during a clash with hundreds of demonstrators protesting what they describe as inadequate compensation for their farmland, witnesses said.
A witness surnamed Li said violence broke out Tuesday when villagers from Guangning county tried to stop construction workers from filling in their farmland with soil for the building of an industrial park.
“Hundreds of us villagers tried to stop the equipment from reaching the farmland. They mobilized more than 1,000 police and used tear-gas on us. The villagers were incapacitated. Then they threw rocks at the villagers and beat them,” Li said.
Police moved into the villages and rounded up participants, he said. “The police have cordoned off the villages and many are unable to leave the villages. More than a dozen from Hebu, Chayuan, and Mabu villages were detained."
A video sent by a witness acting as a citizen journalist in Guangning county, Guangdong province.
Another witness, a woman surnamed Xie, said scores were injured in the incident, including many elderly villagers. “There were between 1,000 and 2,000 police. Many villagers were beaten,” Xie said.
I cannot make calls to the outside, but outside people can call me...Other villagers can make only local calls." Villager
“Villagers in their 70s and 80s marched ahead of the crowd. They didn’t want their children and grandchildren to lose the land. The police pushed them, they fell. The young ones went up to help them. And the police started beating people,” she said.
Ma Meiju, a woman in her 50s from Chayuan village, was beaten by armed police and admitted to Guangning county hospital for treatment, her son said.
When her husband, Li Hairong, and younger son, Li Jincai, tried to intervene, the two were arrested on charges of obstruction of official business.
“Three or four armed police pushed my mom down in the woods and beat her over the head with a wooden stick. They also kicked her in the stomach and the leg,” Ma's elder son said.
“My dad and brother went up with a couple of bottles containing gasoline and were detained on charges of obstruction of official business. Who could stand by and watch when their mom and wife are beaten? Something is wrong with police beating a woman,” he said.
On Wednesday, villagers said hundreds of police remained on alert and were searching for three people identified as protest ringleaders, identified as Li Fujing, Li Qiaozhong and Lu Dahua.
A Dong, a resident of Cha Yuan village, said police had posted “wanted” photos of three people accused of “obstructing government work” and urged residents to share information about them. “We’re still wondering what crimes they are accused of committing,” he said.
Officials have warned residents that they must submit land compensation claims by Oct. 22. Car torched
Villagers said that police had searched the home of one of the wanted men, Li Fujing, and that unidentified people set his car on fire. Another witness reported seeing four vehicles ablaze around 2 a.m. Wednesday.
“The fire broke out suddenly…Many people woke up and tried to put out the fire. There are many residential houses nearby,” one villager surnamed Li said.
Another villager surnamed Xie said Li’s home “was searched and somebody set his personal property on fire. I think they just want to smoke them out to turn themselves in."
Checkpoints, phone trouble
Another villager surnamed Lin returned home Wednesday after leaving briefly to avoid trouble with the police. He said many villagers’ mobile phones weren’t working and police were out in force.
“Many armed police are standing guard at every entrance to the village and roadblocks have been set up too,” Lin said. “Passengers in cars are subject to ID checks. I saw hundreds of police just in our village—and lots of plainclothes police around all the affected villages. “
Officials at the county police station hung up the phone when contacted by a Hong Kong-based reporter.
“I cannot make calls to the outside, but outside people can call me,” one villager said. “And other villagers can make only local calls. I first noticed this problem on Oct. 13.” Villagers 'causing trouble'
A Wuhe township government official who refused to give his name and job title acknowledged that efforts were made to expropriate farmland on Monday, that police were called in to maintain order, and that some villagers had been detained.
“On Monday a small number of villagers caused trouble. We requested assistance from police to maintain order. After the crowd was dispersed on Monday, the construction went ahead as planned today,” the official said.
He declined to say exactly how many villagers had been detained.
According to the Wuhe township government official, the industrial park requires the expropriation of more than 1,000 mu (67 hectares) of farmland.
He said the villagers had been compensated at an above-market rate and only a small number had resisted the land expropriation because of their belief in fengshui, an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to create harmony through physical surroundings.
“The industrial park is a municipal-level priority project. The entire expropriation process was conducted in accordance with the law, but some villagers refuse to turn the land over because of their superstitious belief in fengshui,” the official said.
The villagers claim that they were only offered a one-off compensation scheme at the rate of 16,000 yuan (U.S. $2,344) for each mu expropriated. Many were unhappy with the offer and said they had signed several petitions during the last year.
One woman, surnamed Li, said that the authorities pressured villagers to sign the land-sale agreement, and in late September even began to intimidate their children.
“The kids came home from school and said they were forced to sign statements vowing not to cause trouble. It’s the right thing to do for farmers to protect their farmland. We never signed the agreement to sell the land,” she said.
“But they carried out the scheme anyway. And now they are after those of us who petitioned our case. The people’s police [are] in full gear, including bullet-proof vests, and with police dogs,” Li said.
Villagers said that as of late Tuesday between 40 and 50 villagers were still under surveillance.
Some were taken away and their whereabouts are unknown. They said that when reporters from the Zhujiang Daily, a local newspaper, tried to go to the protest site, the trip was inexplicably cancelled.
Land protests spreading
Land disputes have spread across China in recent years, with local people often complaining that they receive only minimal compensation when the government sells tracts to developers.
In June, 900 vegetable farmers in China’s central Hubei province were involved in violent clashes with police over the course of ten days when authorities tried to seize their farmland for redevelopment.
The local government attempted to develop the land despite the fact that the farmers had rejected a compensation package that many said was too low. Scores of farmers were detained during the protests and at least one was detained.
In April, one villager was killed and five critically wounded when armed police opened fire on up to 100 protesters demanding a halt to the building of a mine in China’s southern Yunnan province.
Villagers had refused a compensation package offered by the mining company for the tract of land and were angered when the company proceeded with construction plans.
Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service and Fung Riu Yau for RFA's Cantonese services. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written and produced for the Web by Joshua Lipes and Sarah Jackson-Han.