HONG KONG—Hundreds of Chinese people who have lost their land to local authorities are taking their grievances to the streets as meetings of local parliaments kick off ahead of the National People's Congress in March.
Rights activists said they expect tighter controls on China's growing army of petitioners with grievances against the ruling Communist Party and local government officials.
"Another wave of crackdowns on petitioning is obviously under way because of the two annual meetings," activist Zhang Jianping said, referring to the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's parliamentary bodies.
I know they are very nervous."
Petitioner Lu Youlin
"Currently, the two meetings are convening at the city and county level and the provincial level meetings are scheduled around the Spring Festival, Jan. 26, and then finally it will be the national ones," said Zhang, who is based in the central province of Hubei.
"At these meeting places there will be many petitioners voicing their grievances."
Zhang said the authorities would typically use plainclothes police officers and unidentified thugs, who would blend in with the crowd before launching a surprise attack on protesters.
Local officials 'nervous'
The legislative bodies in Hubei's Shiyan city will convene in the next few days, sparking tight surveillance and restrictions on the movements of petitioners, activists said.
Disabled petitioner Lu Youlin said: "The two annual meetings are going to be held soon, and local cadres have come to me several times in the past few days with the excuse of bringing 'winter greetings.'"
"I know they are very nervous," Lu said.
Elsewhere in Hubei, rural residents Deng Kaichao and Zhou Hong, of Yunxi county, were warned off a planned trip to Beijing to petition over the loss of their land.
Deng is currently under house arrest.
And in Suizhou city, petitioners from Heyuan village whose land has been under floodwater since 2005 were persuaded back to their village by local officials.
Officials 'too busy'
An employee who answered the phone at the Suizhou municipal complaints bureau said: "Our bureau director yesterday talked about this situation with the Zengdu district leader, who is in charge of the matter, who said they were busy preparing for the local congress meetings and had to put the petitioners’ requests aside."
"But they have pledged to give each family 50 kilos of rice as relief."
Meanwhile, activists in the southeastern coastal city of Fuzhou said they were attacked by unidentified thugs during a demonstration outside a hotel housing the municipal People’s Congress during its annual meeting.
Four people were detained at the local Communist Party school and more than a dozen injured after 200 residents of Huai'an village, Fujian province, petitioned in front of Fuzhou's Xihu Hotel over the loss of their land, villagers said.
"The Jianxi township Party secretary brought in thugs who injured 13 villagers," an eyewitness said.
"Four of the wounded are now still in hospital. Of the 13, some have been set free today, but four were sent to the Party school in Cangshan district."
"Today, the family members of those detained went there to visit them," he added, saying the Party school was being used as an illegal detention center, or "black jail."
A Huai'an resident surnamed Zhang said his group had clashed with a group of unidentified men outside the hotel, which was also guarded by dozens of plainclothes police officers.
"They were in plainclothes wearing black pants and leather shoes," Zhang said. "At about 11 o’clock, a group of thugs rushed the protesters, grabbing the poles that held the banners and using them to beat up the protesters."
But Zhang said the villagers would continue to protest unless their demand for fair compensation for their lost land was met.
"They tried to take our banners away from us, but we wouldn't let them. We hung on tight to them, and then they started to beat us up," he said.
"We are all middle-aged people and we are not very strong. There were about 20 of them, but they were all young men."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long, Fang Yuan and Fang Hua, and in Cantonese by Bat Tzi-mo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.