HONG KONG—A county-level Communist Party chief in the central Chinese province of Hubei has denied allegations that he used death threats against a local woman after she sought to lodge a formal complaint against his government for corruption.
Yunxi county Party secretary Lu Fuchang said he knew nothing of the case of Chengguan township resident Zhou Mei, who said she and her husband had been warned on two separate occasions that Lu was planning to have her killed in an "accident."
"Why you are talking to me?" Lu said in an interview this week. "You’d better talk to whoever threatened her."
Now we are close to celebrating 60 years of the People’s Republic, and the officials are tightening up controls over petitioners."
Lu said he had received no reports of Zhou Mei or her grievances against the government.
"If she feels she is under threat, she can report it to the police," he added.
Zhou said her husband was approached last week as he sold vegetables in the local market by a man in his fifties.
"He told my husband that one of his relatives was a cab driver and that Lu Fuchang had asked him to kill me using his cab," she said.
"The man said this was to prevent me from prodding the government."
Zhou said she had been approached in person a second time while she was manning the stall herself.
"A man on a motorbike came to my stand and asked me to be careful," she said.
Tensions have been running high in recent weeks between local farmers, represented by Zhou, and the government, over a disputed plot of land in Tianfeng village, also in Yunxi county.
Bulldozers move in
A villager in Yunxi said police used heavy machinery to bulldoze about 20 mu (3.3 acres) of land in Tianfeng village on June 5.
"On June 12, they destroyed another 20 mu in Fuhua village," the Yunxi resident said.
"Police and government officials drove farmers away, and then used bulldozers to clear the land," he said, adding that around 100 police officers were deployed in each incident.
Another villager said local officials were cracking down on anyone with a complaint against the government ahead of the sensitive 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule in October.
"Now we are close to celebrating 60 years of the People’s Republic, and the officials are tightening up controls over petitioners," he said.
"Each petitioning villager must be followed by an official around the clock. They monitor us in a stealthy way," the man said.
Zhou said her fears were heightened by the fate of fellow Yunxi resident Liu Guiqin, 53, who was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in jail in 2007 for "illegal possession of state secrets" after she became active in opposing local officials over their plans for local land.
No compensation deal
Officials in Chengguan township, which is home to around 1,000 people, are moving in to seize the remaining farmland in the area, with a total area of around 400 mu.
But local farming families say the government had moved in before a compensation deal was agreed with those who leased the land.
Land in China is held by the state, which typically leases farmland to rural families under 30-year "household responsibility" contracts.
Local officials habitually expect to be able to break these contracts subject to local plans for development, and rural communities frequently complain of corruption and huge profits made from lucrative property development deals.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.