HONG KONG—Armed police are out in force and authorities have detained hundreds of suspected rioters in southwestern China following massive protests over alleged mishandling of a teenage girl's death, according to witnesses and a human rights group.
“The streets are crawling with armed police. Our work unit has ordered us not to go out—to stay home,” one bank employee in Wengan, in Guizhou province, said by telephone.
A female resident reported seeing large number of police as well. “They are stopping pedestrians,” she said.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said police had detained some 300 protesters suspected of rioting, setting fires, and overturning vehicles.
Thousands of people gathered June 28 in Wengan after suspects were questioned and then released in connection with the rape and murder of a high school girl named Li Shufen on June 21. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy cited the girl's relatives as saying she disappeared after being called away by three young men, two of whom were related to officials in the county's Public Security Bureau.
An official at the Wengan county government who declined to be identified said rioters would be dealt with. “The situation is calm now. Stability has basically resumed,” the official said.
“Security at some government agencies—for instance, banks and other departments—is being beefed up,” the official said, denying reports of a curfew and arrests. “The incident is still being investigated. Of course, those who attacked the police and those who rioted must be arrested.”
A duty officer at the county prosecutor’s office said, “We are looking into this matter. We are prosecutors. If a crime can be established, we will definitely prosecute.”
Local television repeatedly aired a government message urging rioters to turn themselves in and residents to report them, Wengan residents said.
The girl’s de facto godfather, a close family friend surnamed Wang, said police had broadcast warnings by loudspeaker.
“Many armed police are patrolling in the village,” Wang said. “They broadcast via loudspeaker to ask villagers to report instigators to the police. People were also warned not to talk to the media or they would be arrested. The villagers here are so scared.”
“Many villagers were beaten up by armed police. Police have arrested some slightly injured villagers, and some police are guarding the hospital for the seriously injured,” he said.
A local schoolteacher surnamed Chen said he accompanied the girl’s parents to the local police bureau on Saturday to request an autopsy, but police refused.
“The police insisted that the girl committed suicide, so they released the suspects. People have questioned whether they did this because of the suspects’ background... Maybe that’s why they covered this up—and this is illegal,” Chen said.Tear-gas
On June 29, a Wengan county official surnamed Wen said police had used tear-gas to quell the crowd and were still out in force “to maintain order.”
“From what I can see, the family of the deceased took issue with the police assessment of the case, hence the protest,” Wen said. “No gunshots were fired yet…I think, in the process of quelling the riot, tear-gas was used.”
“The government formed a special investigative committee Saturday evening. The incident is being investigated. It is too complicated a case for me to elaborate here. The special investigative committee will look into it,” Wen said.Possible fatalities
A resident named Wang, contacted by phone, also said that as of late Sunday the rioting hadn’t died down. Wang said police had fired shots and some fatalities had occurred, but when asked how many people had been killed he replied, “I am not clear on that.”
Another resident who asked not to be identified set the death toll at four protesters. “The police fired shots—about seven or eight shots…Four dead.” The resident said those killed were “rioters” but couldn’t identify them. His account couldn't be independently confirmed.
Another resident said that the protesters included students who threw rocks at police, and that local authorities had dispatched additional armed police from neighboring Guiyang.
“I think the killers should be punished,” he said. “We the people want justice. What has China come to, that the rich and powerful can get away with murder?”
Original reporting RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.