Police Detain, Beat Rare Earth Pollution Protesters in China's Guangxi

Local people say the village committee has started mining without a permit, after falsifying an environmental impact assessment.

A woman stands on the banks of a 'toxic lake' surrounded by rare earth refineries near China's Inner Mongolian city of Baotou, in a file photo.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have detained 16 people who took part in a protest over pollution from nearby rare-earth mining operations, beating some of them, local sources told RFA.

Hundreds of residents of Mapeng village near Guangxi's Yulin city gathered in protest at the mining operation on Wednesday, holding banners and chanting, "Give us back our environment, give us back our land!"

Video footage seen by RFA showed uniformed police officers dragging and kicking elderly protesters, and an unconscious man in a hospital, his clothing soaked in blood.

A line of police in riot uniforms was also shown trying to push the crowd away from the mine-shafts. Protesters said dozens of residents were injured when police later started beating and detaining people.

"People from our village went up there to stop them from building their mine," a resident surnamed Zhong told RFA. "The riot police used their shields to shove us ... then they started arresting people using force, catching them and beating them up with their truncheons."

"Some of the villagers had head injuries and were covered in blood, and one was so badly injured he was sent to hospital," he said.

"Sixteen people have been taken away to the detention center, but their families haven't received any notification yet," Zhong said.

Police have sealed off the mining operation since the protest, and require local residents to present their ID cards in spot checks, he said. Mining operations appear to be continuing in the dead of night.

Villagers say the mining operation is located very close to the main source of water for the village, and that the village committee waved it through without official approval.

They have also accused officials of falsifying data in the environmental impact assessment, only to receive threats in return.

“When we uploaded the whole story to the Internet and went to the Guangxi regional land bureau, they came to us and intimidated us and said we shouldn't do anything like that again," Zhong said of local village officials.

"They want to exploit [these resources] without the consent of local people," he said. "They have already dug dozens of shafts at the site, 13 meters wide and six meters deep."

"We found out that they reported our village population as 300 people in the environmental impact assessment, when in fact there are more than 1,000 people here," Zhong said. "They also said that there is a mains water supply to all households, [which there isn't]."

Long-running dispute

A second Mapeng resident said local people had been protesting the mining operation since last year, to no avail.

"We protest, but there's nothing we can do," the resident said. "They can't produce a mining permit. They just tell us that rare earths don't pollute, but people have put photos online of the pollution that is left behind by this industry."

"The chemicals in those pits will still be there in 100 years' time," he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Xingye county government on Friday confirmed that the authorities are "handling the incident."

"We are handling it ... but we don't know the details ... we can't really give interviews," the official said. "You should call the propaganda department."

An official who answered the phone at the county propaganda department said they weren't aware of the situation, when contacted by RFA on Friday.

Similar protest

The standoff in Mapeng comes after a similar protest near Honghua township near Guangxi's Hezhou city on May 13, after which six people were detained.

"Local residents took photos, the police beat and arrested people, and snatched away their phones," Honghua resident A Hong told RFA at the time. "They then went to the government offices to demand the release of the people who were detained."

Local people complained on May 11 that the authorities didn't have local residents' consent to start mining for rare earths on their doorstep, and protests and clashes ensued.

China accounts for more than 95 percent of the global trade in rare earths, which are used to manufacture clean energy technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and hybrid cars.

The country exported more than 51,000 tons of rare earths last year.

But the industry has been plagued by pollution problems, with local residents reporting higher cancer rates and deformities in livestock near some mining facilities.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.