A land protester from the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang is suffering from brain damage following clashes earlier this week with authorities over the planned sale of farmland and forests ahead of village-level elections, fellow activists said Thursday.
Zhang Taijin suffered major head trauma during the beating on Monday, which took place after around a dozen land protesters arrived at government offices in Xiage township, near Zhejiang's Taizhou city.
"The leaders chucked the villagers out, beating them as they went," Zhang's son-in-law, who gave only his surname Ying, told RFA on Thursday.
"There were about seven or eight police, and they were holding down my father-in-law by the neck and beating him," he said.
"A lot of his brain cells have died over a large area, and he is basically a vegetable now," Ying said of his father-in-law, who is being treated at a local hospital. "He is still not out of danger."
Ying said Xiage residents had been protesting plans by the authorities to acquire farmland and forests for the past six months, but that this was the first time the authorities had used violence against them.
He said he thought the beatings were linked to forthcoming elections to the village committee in November.
Sources in Xiage township said the elections were called to replace an outgoing ruling Chinese Communist Party village chief due to retire, and the incumbent had tried to sell off large tracts of land before stepping down.
"We have petitioned about this more than 10 times already, but they don't take any notice of us, because the elections are coming up, and they don't really have the right to do this," Ying said.
"We have a few representatives from our village [including Zhang], and they are all very eloquent people, so they have been locking them up ... If there's no one there who knows how to speak out, then that'll make things much easier for them," he said.
Zhang's daughter said her father was in critical condition following the beating, and accused officials of agreeing on a cover-up story.
"I have some relatives who work [in the township government], and they told me in private that they called in all the village officials under their control and agreed that they would all stick to the same story; that my father never went there, and that his brain damage was due to illness," she said.
She said three other protesters were injured at the same time as her father.
"They have locked them up in the police station, saying they were the ones who attacked first," she said.
"Then they sent 70 or 80 people to go around knocking on people's doors to [promote] their land acquisition plan."
An official who answered the phone at the Xiage township government offices declined to comment on the incident.
"I'm sorry, I'm not authorized to answer queries or make statements on this matter," the official said.
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to rural communities under collective contract and through the household responsibility system that replaced the state-run farms and communes of the Mao era.
The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year.
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.
In September 2011, the village of Wukan near Shanwei city stunned officials with a highly organized and orderly anti-corruption protest by more than 3,000 villagers wielding colorful banners outside government offices.
However, even after the rebel village succeeded in throwing out its Communist Party leaders, the newly elected committee says it has been hamstrung in its attempts to return residents' farmland sold to developers by a corrupt village chief.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.